Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2022  Vol. 21  No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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Long ago, the ocean was the road souls traveled into life.
So when they left, it must have looked familiar.

A part of us knew the passage north.
The word soul comes from the Norse for sea.
So it is written.

So say the missing ones, beyond the whitecaps and the questions.
But what do they know.

So light their step, they leave no trace.
Only the sea that gave us words.
The core of each is vast and empty.


The stories you have heard are not true, I said
to a handful of strangers whose eyes rolled
into problems of their own. But all the while,

the arctic glass was dissolving into a general
unease, until I was talking to a picture of Earth,
archaically imagined, whose terra incognita

whispered, The truth is never true.

These days online you can work wonders
with the images of others. Every day, we grow
a little younger, the hydrogen bomb a little older.

Remember how the islands disappeared.

The waters closed over. The blue some call
borrowed, others Earth, me a mother waiting
by the phone. Is what you feel true, I ask her,

and a rising of the waves makes our island small.


The shadow figure of a shoulder in the water tells you
night has fallen through,

and a vein shade as cold as marble
lies down across the face.
So what remains
swings its gate.

When I was a child,
I loved the alchemy of moments such as this,
the parting sea of material nature

that said, I know, life out there is lonely.

I looked to water for all that it transformed,
how it sought out the low places.

That was years ago,
and I stared for hours once,
so clear the mirror,
I could not hear the others.

I could not hear my name, so various the water,
the earth it held forever letting go.


The sea will swallow anything and spit it out
as the sky goes clear.

How odd to think of the romantic lathered
in the waves, incanting death,

the distant steeple wreathed in the laughter of gulls.
But when the war came,

the infinite shrank to the size a man,
an amputee, and the shipwreck in the water
became the sea.

It tarred the hair of bathers,
laid a poisoned fish against our china.

the smell of rosemary and lemon,
the meat we harvested, seasoned, charred,

clinging like a child to our shirts.


In the season of giants,
with its red flags and cameras on the bluff,

breakers pound the ocean shore.
They want what every insomniac wants: they want in,

and soon will beat our skeletons to diamonds.
You who walk your heart from one end of night to another,

However old your hands, you are older.
You were old the day you almost drowned.
If you cannot sleep, remember,

the hole in the ocean floor needs you.
It needs your sense of fairness and betrayal,
your underworld architecture,

your fear. It wants what every insomniac wants.
You who are its inner sanctum.

Thank you, you whisper, as it pulls you through.


When I was beaten by the ocean,
I told myself I deserved it.
Not for what I did but who I was.
I told no one.
I told a stretch of water off the public pier.

Every dream is a good dream, the emptiness said.
And then, silence.

Whenever I feel beaten, I long to go back
to the promontory exposure, that disappointed bridge.

I was a stranger and sought the comfort of the strange.

The moon hung for me its damaged lantern in the fathoms.

The cold was painless.
So I dove a little deeper.
I became a reader, a lantern in the water.

And in my nightmares, waves.


He who feels good about himself only when he feels bad
poses a danger fierce as angels.

The boy soprano of a missile with a child’s name.

I have heard the wreckage,

the father’s pounding at the table, the glass in the streets.
The need to please can punish you long after

when it feels a little pointless,
which is why oceans have so much to teach me.

Not immortals, but the mirrors of their strides
breaking on the sand. Who was I fooling,

says the lapsed romantic by a painting of a wreck at sea.
When a mother drowns,

she takes the gods of oceans with her.
And sometimes the darker view is more charitable,

sleep’s dominion afloat a dreamless tide
whose solace hears no gratitude, wonders no tragedy or glamour,

and, thanks to our departed, does not care.


I have seen the Egyptians
cutting stalks of papyrus to build a boat.
They have been here all day
waist-deep in the season that swells these banks.
The featherheads tell you, you are looking at papyrus,

from whose root the locals weave their cordage and sails,
their stories of papyrus.

You are not alone,
you who carry the weather-eaten scrolls

where you can barely read the word papyrus.
Barely a boat behind the dust that lifts and settles in a mist.

Something is always falling back
like rain into the sea that made it.

The crackle of scythes, the tide that crawls ashore,
the lover who falls back against her pillow

like breath into a mirror that tells you you’re alive.


Once, I looked at the sea so long,
I saw kindness as a question.
If power corrupts, why give it to our friends.

Is that you, Lord, in waves that are the children of storms.
Is that your shy fist at the door.

Are you alright, love. Are you there.  

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