I found my self this morning, deep sea diving
near the seafloor: coral-conquered, shipwrecked,
covered in barnacles, sea cucumber oil, writhing
around the neck of the merman on the prow: a locket?
I took it into my whale-mouth, swam to the surface.
On shore, huge human again, I took it out, looked
inside: myself, kindergartenized, non-Adonis
in miniature. The locket hung on golden chain,
the clasp cold and tough on blubberbutt hands.
I washed it off with seawater, watched it line
my fingernails with rust. I put it on anyway. But then,
beach-combing, exposed by the weight of real men's eyes,
I tripped over the long chain—
how did it grow so long?—and watched the lifelines
the chain had traced in the sand dance like paper shriveling
in the fire. Mesmerized, I sat until the wind blew the sand soft,
then swam for horizon. For home. The chain, of course,
tugged to shore. And at that slightest resistance,
I ducked my whale-head free from the chain
and watched my small self sway. The sun fell.
I glinted once, a stuttering candle,
Wrenched open oyster, broken
cherimoya seeds dark as coffee
splattered inside the shell like ink:
this is what you offer me,
stretching with threadthin feelers
out from the terrifying chasm
and since I never dove this deep
except in silver-tinged dreams,
I trip off my sun-filled schooner
and into you, the wreck.
I misjudged the distance,
thinking how serene it would be
to slide into some quotidian rhythm,
undulating breathless with no regard
for what the current does to you,
stuck there. I have no lamp or armor
to bring to you, just a ladder
half-nailed into my boat,
dangling like a bulky tapestry
dumbly flossing the sea.
I came to save you,
but now of course I need saving
from myself: the oxygen lines like
Medusan seaweed in the dark
your shell shows white it is blinding
it is awe it is real-lie, really small
and in this hypoxic second
my hands fall stiff and cold
but sure: I take the nail
freed from the ladder when I fell
and hack that pearl in two.
The halves swim out,
pool into your familiar eyes,
and in a too-easy whirl
the wreck becomes you:
seaweed strangles itself
in knots, slipping in like sinew;
splintering coral, your bones;
white-hot streams bending
the water for skin.
And the dark, filling in the gaps,
shapes it all into your body,
no longer broken for me, or you.
When we ascend, panting,
and pull up the ladder,
the shell you left hesitates
on the end.
We bundle what was broken, and hope
it sells for a quarter.
Days of 1998
Our grins wild, we only knew
what we wanted:
The crooks of our teeth
cinching air. Ditch dirt mudsliding.
August heat in May.
But we each found the barn alone.
we saw time like someone drowned.
Then the hay twisting like braids
we all would fall sighing, staring.
Calls for dinner dangling
until we found ourselves
In the hospital, after my father's funeral
So don’t tell me I don’t see him right now.
Father! His sharp fingers choking
the thread around and around
that dead oak tree, the one
with only one branch, pointing
at my old bedroom window;
the blinds, slitted open, dull knife, strips
of an I, tattered, of course they fall.
You know, I used to eat fall
oak leaves, extra crispy,
given like flowers
by a mooning boy.
When his pecs plummed, he unwound miles
of red string from round his finger and proposed,
feeling proud, economical.
But when I got home,
with a look.
They say when I came to,
I kept pulling at my spine,
as if it could come out
one long stretch mark
running scalp to sternum,
stem to stern.
Stephen Reaugh | grew up in western Pennsylvania, on the outskirts of the Allegheny National Forest. In 2016, he obtained an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Alabama. his creative work has appeared in Pomona Valley Review, Rabbit Catastrophe Review, and The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review. Currently, he is an M.A. student in English Literature at Villanova University.