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
The sea grape’s
many ears are broad
and mirthful wax cups,
red veins steeped
of each skim and sweep
of the young swallow:
his scoop of tail,
on dark wing.
No wonder she raises
her round ears
to the storm. No wonder
she lets them flutter
and fold, and perhaps
one day tear free.
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.
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.
(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
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.