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?
I pull from tangled
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.
mingling in my pocket,
I scoop out my heart
and permit you to feast.
Photo credit: Beth Tockey Williams
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!)
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.
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.