Dry Tortugas Artist Residency

For the month of September I will be living and working off-the-grid on remote Loggerhead Key with my mother, Beth Williams, a signature member of The Pastel Society of America, as the Dry Tortugas National Park 2019 Artists in Residency!

Our hope is to complete a manuscript for publication consisting of prose, poetry, and pastel and oil paintings all inspired by the Dry Tortugas’ effervescent marine landscape.

Wish us luck, and don’t use straws!

Short Night Worries (10)

At night, I worry about red algal blooms and the way death follows abrupt darkness. Consider the lithe loggerhead or the polyps of ancient staghorn. What must it be like to surrender to those invading clouds, parched for sunlight?

Reunion

I pull from tangled 

island ventricles

pale claws nearly dust

to stash in my breast pocket.

Clittering china, I picture

a family of crab ghosts converging

over my pulse, ready to tuck

into their first bloody meal after death; 

eye stalks sway in synchrony 

raised in prayer to Sea, or

perhaps his brother, Sky.

Spectres Crustacea 

mingling in my pocket,

I scoop out my heart

and permit you to feast.

 

Photo credit: Beth Tockey Williams

Lightening is Dead

Then thunder comes

on shoulders of rain.

The roar you think

will taper off

 

so you stop to hear her out;

on she shakes, & on. 

Her bellow beats bereft

the balding palm, prickle pears

 

wag paddles in her face.

You hear her grief-ripples 

from the thick-aired house,

windows agape, sills –

 

tongues for puddling.

She sobs through lunch

of jasmine rice &

coconut milk, sobs 

 

through day marking papers 

in blue-black strokes.

Even unto sleep, even once

rain has ceased, thunder

 

crawls down the dark hall

on her hands & knees.


(The soft pastel painting featured alongside this poem was created by my mother, Beth Tockey Williams. Stay tuned for more content like this, as together we are creating a book of poetry and pastel landscape paintings documenting our experience as the Artists in Residence at the Dry Tortugas National Park!)

Amphibious

You meet me at the bridge and ask me to discard my scales. Urgently: you say it’s time for me to join you above. It’s simple, you say, just pull them out like so many fingernails. You do not have them, so you do not know. You’ve given me no clippers so I must dig in and rip them out from the root.

It takes hours. You grow bored, you drowse beneath a tree nearby. My blood stains the swamp and it bubbles in my wounds. I’m cleansed by black water tannins. My sides and legs shredded and oozing, I roll onto the riverbank. You gather me up in the net of your arms.

You have a place for me in a nice suburban home. I’ll have a family: someone to look after me each day. There is awe and love in your eyes. I have hidden my gills; I hope that as I learn to breathe your air, they do not fall away.

Cosmology in Her Skin

I now allow myself to write
those velvet throats, those waves of female form,
without discrediting the work
as politic instead of rather than also poetic.

I touch a woman and learn long dead languages, taste her breath and tides pull me under,
where the ocean names my atoms
reminds me all I’d know
if the Earth herself were my politics.

The swamp is my reliquary, and deep within, death and life and death sing across the waters.
She too carries this candor, her body equally unnavigable without submission. I’ve learned this:
How could I see the naked world

and wish it clothed? How could I breathe good air filtered over light years, bequeathed to me by the stars I count beside my lover,

and wish to bottle it? Nothing, not poetry, not politics, will spare me if I cannot spare her.

Short Night Worries (9)

At night, I worry about contrived nonfiction. Why do writers do things “for the story”? When tragedy hits us, or when something wonderful happens, we are so aware of the brevity of time that the only way to memorialize the moment truly is to write about it. Not for anyone else, but for the sake of that moment and what it created in us, however briefly. We aren’t used to things staying the same, and when they do we start looking for the stories, for the changes, and if they aren’t there we go out and make them ourselves.