Michael Neary © 2012 All Rights Reserved
First the earthquake tore
the Alaskan ground, spitting
out the shoreline six feet down in half
Next the great wave swept
the houses from stone to shingle,
drowning the mountains
a thousand feet up.
For a time landscape
was ocean floor.
Then the water rushed out
Turnagain Arm to the proper sea
leaving just one crippled tilting house
and a rim of skeleton pines,
their groping roots awash in salty poison.
When the Alutiiq saw the whale,
breeching in bone-cold water,
the door to understanding one word wide.
blubber blowhole baleen
fins tail the blood-red meat
sacred spirit of essential whale
In naming, perceptionó
So we believe, and swallow
dictionaries whole like medicine,
scour the Web for definitions
and wait to know the thing, as if
vocabulary and syntax
forge keys into insight.
here I have words,
adenocarcinoma, carboplatin, taxotere
but this language, my language
neoplasm, taxol, neuroendocrine differentiation
curves its clinical tendrils round the frame
but cannot unlock the why, the what next, the will I
Like a stone into the sea
it disappears within the murky green
and finds the secret place
where terror sounds the astounding deep.
Two cuts to place the metal
disk, stitched down tight
into my breastbone. An opening,
a secret known only
to initiates, its password spell
a Latinate cantation
to ward off the evil eye.
Two snaky tongues feed
their venom through the larger vessels,
light chemical backfires
burning burning burning
no tidal wave can quench.
Two nurses, gowned and masked, float
near and then away, then near again
like blue paper lanterns on an unseen current.
The TVís drone cannot drown out
the simplest of facts: You must
let in the beast to kill the beast.
My mouth corrodes like rusted metal.
Timor mortis conturbat me.
Donít come in. Come in.
Even now there is no easy passage, no
fathoms-deep canal carved
to let the gravid oil tankers through.
Even now, the only way is over.
A thousand generations of footsteps
imprinted on this beach,
where the first Alutiiq
hauled ashore their boats of bark and skin,
strapped them tight across their shoulders
to navigate a route to
more distant water.
That night they watched
the sparking embers of their fire fall back
hissing in the frigid snowmelt.
They wondered when they would find
the sea, when what they carried
would carry them again.
Copyright © 2012
Laura Orem is a writer, artist, and teacher living in Red Lion, Pennsylvania. She is a featured blogger at the Best American Poetry Blog. Her work has appeared in many journals, including OCHO, Dos Passos Review, Nimrod, and many others. She teaches writing at Goucher College in Baltimore.
Table of Contents Next Poem Guidelines