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.