Kathryn Bratt-Pfotenhauer

Blue Traveler

Storm over Irondequoit Bay—
the sky a thick soup, gray as tombstones. 

I am inches from a bridge
I could easily jump; the guardrail

no detriment to the death
ambition that I can tell. 

I feel it, a great
turning within me, hopeless—

My father is dead. O God,
my father is dead. 


Ars Poetica with Apologies for My Narrative Carelessness 

This poem supposes the father is dead. 
The poem supposes this will cause its own singular grief,
neck vein straining, caught, as if in a zipper. This poem supposes
the father will die by some ordinary happenstance. Old
age. Heart failure. An aneurysm, and he is dead before he hits
the ground. This poem accepts this might not be accurate. 
The father could be alive. This poem supposes it doesn’t matter
because anything can be real if you think it hard enough: the
father is dead. The father has died, and the poet is sad
enough to write they are sad. They are bereft. This poem
supposes they are bereft. This poem supposes the father
did not come home singing of alcohol. This poem supposes
the father’s bourbon stash remains under the sink, or above
the stove where he can’t reach anymore; the twin shoulder
operations have taken care of reaching. The father is not
a bad man. (This poem supposes you care about that sort
of thing.) The father is not a bad man. He isn’t. He is not
a bad man. This poem doesn’t want you to be confused,
or speculative. Let other poems handle speculation. Different
department. I’m talking to you about the anticipation of loss. 
I’m talking to you now, as I have talked to him. He will not
die. He is living. But if I put down my pen, he goes away,
the baritone of his laughter inches its way off the page
in a downward slide. This poem assumes a pleasing shape:
a container for memory. Never mind it’s leaking already, fluid
from his lungs, his legs. Puddles on the ground. Never mind
I’ve mopped it as best I could. 

From the Author: Recently, I’ve been consumed by the ethics of writing about others, especially regarding grief: how do we, as writers, do that responsibly? At the same time, a larger question about emotional truth and actual reality has become a constant in my work. These two poems, the emotional nexus of a larger manuscript entitled “Blue Traveler,” deal with these two questions. The first poem establishes a reality, and the second refutes that reality as anticipatory rather than actual. I’m concerned with these in-between somewhat-accurate poetic spaces.

Kathryn Bratt-Pfotenhauer is the author of the poetry collection Bad Animal (Riot in Your Throat, 2023) and the chapbook Small Geometries (Ethel, 2023.) The recipient of a Pushcart Prize, their work has been published or is forthcoming in The Missouri Review, The Adroit Journal, Crazyhorse, Poet Lore, Beloit Poetry Journal, and others. Nominated for Best New Poets and Best of the Net, they attend Syracuse University’s MFA program and serve as Director of Development & Publicity at BOA Editions.