The Last Vacation

By Shannon C. Ward

Featured art: Untitled Collage by Kennedy Cardenas

You beat time on my head -Theodore Roethke 

Her husband has taken the children swimming. 
She tries to speak, but her mouth is filled with coins. 
She washes them down with vodka, vomiting.

She knows what it means to dream of sinning.  
She’s the mother of four beautiful boys, 
and her husband has taken them swimming. 

They open each book and read from the beginning. 
A middle child steals pills when he outgrows toys.   
He washes them down with vodka, retching. 

The oldest gets some kind of cancer, stemming 
from trauma to brain to spine to loins.   
His mother has taken the children swimming. 

The sea is everything you cannot say, brimming
with plastic, jellyfish, bodies, and coins. 
She washes them down with oil, vomiting. 

There are photographs of families grinning 
in the papers: mothers, fathers, girls, and boys. 
But someone has taken children swimming 
and washed them down without retching.

Raised in a renovated slaughterhouse on the outskirts of Wilmington, Ohio, Shannon C. Ward is author of the poetry chapbook, Blood Creek (Longleaf Press, 2013). She is the recipient of America’s 2016 Foley Poetry Prize, the 2016 Prize in Southern Poetry from White Oak Kitchen, and a 2013 Nazim Hikmet Poetry Prize. Her work has received generous support from Willapa Bay AiR, Yaddo, Norton Island, Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts, and the Anderson Center. She received her MFA in poetry from The North Carolina State University in 2009. 

2 thoughts on “The Last Vacation

  1. Hi, Shannon. Your wonderful poem, “The Last Vacation” is expertly wrought to tell a disturbing story of the sad wreckage of lives, self abuse, cyclic rhythm, and madness. I feel there’s an inevitability at play. I don’t know if any of what I’ve said makes sense, but I wanted to tell you about the poem’s impression on me. Thank you, so much.

    By the way, I love Nazim Hikmet. Congratulations on the poetry prize.



  2. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment, Jeff. It means a lot to hear the poem resonated with you, and I think what you said is very insightful. This is one of those poems that cost a lot to write in the metaphorical sense, and I’m glad it struck a chord.



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