Jan Verberkmoes


If there is a now     this must be it     which I think is why
this sand-matted tuft of kelp     crisps in the winter sun
just like the varnish curling from the side of the boat
we burned on the beach          because we could not lift it
back to the water          because the tide     would not carry it
but the boat     more than anything          was a whale
when it held us      in the dark piano of its fat and wood
cords and padded bones that rang the water
once      and over and over
and so we lit the pyre of its planked frame because
we could not bear to watch it rot
because we could not     bear the body     and the ocean
reaching and receding          would not hold
and only then did I see there is nothing more grand
than an animal burning
the hull of its belly falling open to a blackened spindle
and when I say animal      that includes you too
which must be my way of suggesting          weren’t you
in flames          fighting your way     out of your own skin
until you fell into the sound      where the whale ripped the seam
between water and sky          a sky that now dims
as I search it for a then     that will show me our boat again
on a water that ripples when the whale clenches
the way the skin of the face rides the muscle underneath     but never splits

JAN VERBERKMOES received her MFA in poetry from the University of Mississippi, where she received a John and Renée Grisham Fellowship. Her poems appear in 32 Poems, Ecotone, The Paris Review, and Pleiades. She was a 2018-19 Stadler Fellow at Bucknell University. 

Issue Six
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