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.

Elegy

Elegy

(For Aaron R Williams)

Places I’ve been would melt you;
the barrenness of iced-over marshes,
the grassy dropping cliffs of Moher
where our mother buried that lock
of your soft blonde hair
and piled smooth rocks atop the shallow grave.
Where our sister cut a lock of her own
and let the wind carry it over the edge
toward the fog-swept Aran island.

People I’ve loved would melt you.
You might have shook their hands roughly,
let them feel the scar on your knuckle.
You’ve been gone now much too long,
we’ve searched strange landscapes for blue, 
rare but for sadness and your eyes.
Why must every drop be saved for the sea?

 

Voices I’ve heard would melt you
into a strange raw fear of 
wordswordswords
phrases like butter that warm on your lips, 
but you cannot speak another word cannot 
break the filmy membrane
between the living and the dead.

 

Had your voice been carried over Irish farms
and rung in the caves of the south sea,
had they sung into our mother’s wind-chilled hands;
instead we had only your name,
whispered over the cliff edge to drift on the waves 
until at last it sank with a grief so deep and dark
it put the sea to shame.

Short Night Worries (6)

Last night I worried about guardian angels. Are they ever disappointed in us? Why do they stick around? What if they don’t get to choose who they are guarding; maybe if we don’t connect with them they disappear.

Marronnage and The Wild Things

As the daughter of an artist and a pilot, my earliest experience with self-expression was uniquely visual and innovative. While other children were given a coloring book or set in front of a television, my mother cleared our dining table and covered it in shaving cream, our hands and imaginations our only tools. All in good fun, my siblings left creation to the table where it was easily wiped clean. I, however, began to see canvases everywhere; the white couch was the first to go, executed via finger painting with chocolate pudding. Food was an obvious medium, as were sheets, blankets, etc. Moving out of the suburbs and onto four acres of unspoiled Blue Ridge wonderland opened my eyes to the perfect visual mess of nature. To this day, I hold the image of those forests in my mind with unadulterated love; I named my favorite trees and rock piles, collecting characters with which to fill my wandering mind. All this was merely my soul’s preparation for that undiscovered lifelong dream, which caught me up unawares like a spotted gecko in young chubby fingers. My brother was flipping through Where The Wild Things Are, when I fell into the dream from which I’ve never awoken; the thrill of hearing a word and seeing the truth in your mind’s eye. Suddenly everything seemed to be locked into harmony, a silent dance for the soul. Each word unfolded secret worlds; this was it, my perfect medium. Language, with its endlessly reinventable forms, grasped my heart tenderly and desperately as if I’d been a wild thing.

Thus my love affair with Writing began, struck like a match at 4 years old and never extinguished. Over time our relationship has evolved, often coerced into new forms and directions as life delivered new preoccupations to my feet. Fear and Loneliness came early, as long trips meant constant goodbyes and reunions with my father. I knew where Depression hid each time he left; it hung in my mother’s eyes each morning before school and each night before bed, when Aaron and Hannah and I switched off sleeping next to her each night. Writing swiftly adapted these small hurts into whimsy, romanticizing my parent’s story despite absence. As time went on the absence seemed to come home with him, as if flying had emptied his bones of marrow and replaced it with an intangible distraction.

A change of scenery, then, an infusion of marshland and Spanish moss to animate the ghost of their marriage. Writing ran with this new world, rich with marronnage and wizened oaks, and I threw myself into her believing language could save us all. And yet Depression crept back in, and distance carved hairline fractures like tidal creeks in our bones. I was thirteen when we shattered apart, when my eldest brother, my anchor Aaron, was flooded and torn away. Suicide is a sooty rag which wiped our eyes blind, and no matter how hard we fought, we could never locate our target. My parent’s held onto Hannah and I like oxygen masks in a plane crash, but when the salt water began to chill our feet they looked at each other and had to let go. We’ve all survived on different rafts. My mother was carried away on Art, my sister on Religion, my father on Logic. Writing bore me to Baltimore, an Atlantis for the drowned and drowning. I’ve never stopped searching for Aaron, I hope to find him again clinging to magic, which perhaps carried him far away. Perhaps even to the island of the wild things.

Crab Walk: Dissolution of A Dream from Within (Part 3)

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Even now, as my heart still beats, I can feel the molt begin. Pavement under my boots crumbles into sand. My nightly hot showers mock the sea. My skin may as well be scales, or shell. I taste only salt. I look at her and am scooped into a bucket to be poked and studied and emptied dead into a toilet. If only my memory would follow suit, so that trapped in this bowl all my life would be only the last two seconds. Instead I’m cursed with the recollection of the scent of her shampoo, the curve of her hip under my hand, her sleeping sighs. We were barely anything, and yet in that moment, she was my only way of being.

In a matter of hours all that passed between us was turned to ash, just fertilizer for the real love of her life. The look on her face said that’s all it ever was. And yet she seemed sad. If I were a crab I’d have no sorrows. If I were a crab, I would have scurried myself sideways out of her life and my shell would peel off slowly and each atom of my time with her could be discarded into the Gulf Stream. Instead, my heart and my skin are all too soft. I am exposed. Her eyes pierce into my veins and halt the flow of blood. I’d rather be upside down in a tank, playing dead until pipes shoot me into the world of my birth.

It’s time to go home. My mother will welcome me with enchiladas and vodka crans and I’ll fall asleep on her porch swing until the humid wind rattles the palmettos. I’ll watch the bats reel after Carolina mosquitos and finally – finally – my blood will begin again to circulate. How does one come to life again if they’ve never been dead?