Separate State ||| The Diagram

The family two docks down,
their chatter straining over the talk radio
blaring, in-laws, who never had kids,
warning relative’s kids, “Too close, kids.”
Me on my dock thinking No kids,
so that’s the reason the kids are too close, but no breaks. The in-laws: “Stop it.
Stop horsing around.” “Oh, go ahead,
fall in and hurt yourselves.” That
first thing Sunday morning, first day of vacation,
along with their radio station’s guest host’s
struggle to fill, myself already having my fill
till over the radio, this desperate move
by the host: “Can someone name three states,
two divided by a river
also naming the third state?” My dock,
the separate state I tried to fish
when the fat perch sized up my worm,
bobber, then me, slowly rolled,
its white belly signaling Not interested
that perch taking me to that state
of a name I never knew,
nor his face ever complete; that teen
who never completely came out of the water, so to speak,
never bit on here, the life, as people say,
we live for, a dock, summer, family, fishing.That boy,
too, one day surfaced, rolled
through two business offices till pushed
to mine. “No need to explain,” the boy said,
standing in my doorway, “I know you really aren’t
the professional I need to see, I know
this really isn’t the right place. Later,”
and bolted. “Listen folks,” the radio host pleaded,
“I know someone out there knows the answer.”
And so then, years later, mine: Really isn’t the right place
later, remembering the stunned still, the state afterwards
calling it a stir caused by the boy,
and its response a little thing that shouldn’t have
upset anyone enough to jump in
that icy river. Shortly, two docks down
the guest host chirped, “Wait a minute, we’ve….”
Splash—the radio kicked into the water,
so, for a few seconds, silence, what, I thought,
all our states needed, till one
child whimpered, “I didn’t do it,”
and the father said, “No one did;” and then:
“Of course he did it,” the sister-in-law said,
“and now we’ll never know
the answer. You’re the father.
Do it. Remove him.”


Scott Withiam’s second book of poems, Doors Out of the Underworld, will be published by MadHat Press in fall 2018.  His poems have most recently appeared in Chattahoochee Review, Diagram, Notre Dame Review, Plume, and South Carolina Review.  He works for a non-profit in the Boston area.

Separate State” was published by The Diagram in issue 17.3.

Look for new work from Scott Withiam in TLR: Chemistry, the all-poetry issue.