Is it Mine? Yours? Theirs? (Or, a Text that Raises Questions of Ownership)

Syllables. They tumble from her mouth into his.
They didn’t complete each other’s sentences, they ate them.
She would chew “con,” he “crete.” She “white,” he “washed.”
He would swallow “be,” she would shit “low.”

To fall means climbing—knowing
it could be your last. The rough texture
of their forms curve and complement. He is closing in
on her. Not a walker’s imprint—

a stomper’s. Her high heels cast shadows. Entangled
in one another, covered
in sand under a too bright sun.
A bearded man plays

a harp. Window glass protects viewers
from themselves. Almost
lovers in the shadows, it is time
for us to part. The ocean is out of control.

Syllables smash. I am going

to reinvent you.
This act is not visual. Life will go

out of focus, or

the tree could be dead.

I remember realizing I could swim but not knowing when it happened. Believe
my father taught me. You’ll drag

your wasted body from the water. Flop

onto the dock like a caught fish.
As soon as you can stand, you’ll
jump back in. I remember my cousin Judy
getting me drunk the first time (on Rolling Rock)
when I was 14. And you’ll swim

across channels, swallow salt water,
even seaweed, and your cravings will shift.
I remember almost losing it

for 90 minutes—a steel blue white-capped lurch
up slap down—don’t take your eyes off
the horizon for even a second. Syllables
smash against the white-washed.

I remember puking
on the steps to Saint Patrick’s
Catholic Church in Kokomo
on Easter Sunday when I was 8.

The ocean is everywhere
in her mind. Against the white-washed concrete.
I remember telling my father

I’m one too.

But you’ll keep jumping
into the drink till you go down
or find a squeaky board to use
as a balance beam.

What happens
beyond that bare tree
will become the thing. Syllables smash
against the white-washed concrete floor. A box
unfolding, I get vertigo even before I begin.

In the beginning, there was no lighthouse. Everything was light.
In the beginning, ships sank.
In the beginning, climbing was optional.

I feared the word undertow before one knocked me off balance.
But I hit the barrier between breathing and drowning in a Holiday Inn pool.
Jumped off the State Beach lifeguard stand under fire
works, shouting “The ocean is dying.”

The white-washed concrete floor base. In the beginning,
language rescued us. A keeper was a keeper.

In the beginning, we had to learn the names of each place
before we could forget them. In the beginning,

there was no before. Its beauty—its ruin. Syllables
smash against the white-washed concrete
floor base below. Now all I can hear
is the sound of someone else’s ocean

in a conch shell I found buried
beneath a shack,
destroyed by fire. It was no accident. The day my father died,
I could not recognize my own name.


She threw
nostalgia in—
along with your initials.

“Turn all
post-war, pre-washed, personal works
over for good, or
for as long as it takes
to forget

Another message
written in poor
handwriting, stuffed
in a glass
bottle to be tossed
into another body
of water—salt or fresh,
or in between.

In Six Days

The counting may stop,
the spinning through
a thousand seasons
in a day may
become a memory. Or,
it won’t. Who
can predict
how my feet
will move
on the island
at dawn.

Cold Water (April 14)

Maiden. She sank 101 years ago today,
or had started to sink. My father taught me
how to swim in a bay
off a rocky beach. He taught me
how to tie my shoes on porch steps
that spilled onto those rocks—though he said
I taught myself. I never sank
all the way to the bottom.
I’ve always managed to swim
ashore. So many to thank. I could not
have done it by myself.


I can almost taste
the snow—nothing
good ever comes

from that. A late March double
espresso might neutralize
the palate. Might

not. A family
reunion in August resuscitated
to honor my father. I

never went when he was
alive. How can I
go now? August is

the month of grand
gestures, spiritual releases.
August is

the month he left
us. Yes, I told him
he could let go, but

how could I know
what it would be like
to live in a world without

his heart beating
in it? August is the month
when water

falling majesty just
might return.

How Close Are You to the Shore?

Can you walk barefoot through dune
grass at high

tide and predict how many purple
mussel shells

will be uncovered
next? I wonder if this image of you

I’ve constructed
from ash bark and river glass

could come close
to dampening your bare skin.

Long Distance Brackish Exchange

Just past midnight
wishes travel
instantaneously from the south
shore to the west
bank and beyond
(a mile or so). The drop

of salt
water says to the fresh
one in the middle:

I want
to see pictures.

Too mesmerized
by his voice, how he plays
your guitar, to dig out
my camera,

comes the muddy reply.

REM Kiosk

A dream is only as true
as its recounting. Insert stalks

of wheatgrass embedded
in translucent partitions

for accent. An ocean
spilling forth on all sides

gets pulled inside
out to become a Midwestern

lake not frozen enough
to hold those images

of ice fishers under
glass. You shake

yourself awake
to make up

what you won’t remember
one hour into it.

Another Pronunciation

Saudade isn’t saudade
if it is satisfied. When she least expects it, 

other dreams come
into focus under the lights. Dust 

of desire becomes frenzied
particles she won’t try to collect. She’s reaching 

over the fence with its crumbling limestone
foundation to touch another’s— 

carefully stacked against the wrought-iron grille.
She won’t see 

the Atlantic tomorrow,
but she’ll get very close.