By Katie Ford
Seawater, and Ours a Bed above It
We wished that if we raked
the sea-carved skeletons from beneath
the house the true soft back of earth
would show a constant bone.
But those same shells trawled from the gulf
held back malarial waters
confused by houses raised above them.
We said this house is breaking
when one end sank and one beam cracked—
(in my honest sleep I said
our house is dead)—
as our hound clicked over the floors,
scratching the same raw second
we did not learn the law of,
that we live and die and live again
into dawns we feel it is right
to wash only our feet in the basin,
letting the water pass over us
into the ground.
And we do know, don’t we:
we will be overcome by waters
where I stand with my lanterns and cans,
with my useless preparations and provisions,
with the God I loved, I hated, and you.
I might not know you, nor you,
me, even though we’ve washed each other
with salt. But we know how we will end:
Waters will sweep the shells over our eyes,
and we will recognize
where we are
from what we saw
in museums and papers, from what we heard
in the agate voice of the scientist
who spoke in the quiet
only the truth need not rise above,
who, somewhere inland, takes tourists
through a glass garden
where tropicals and ferns
are rained on periodically
by a false mist
to show how spores used to shine
from even the underside of the world.
It is difficult to be in the museum with you now,
the shining floors abiding beneath our feet.
And the display
of tools the earlier versions of ourselves
used to grind corn to meal.
Dear listener, you don’t know how jealous
I have become of such images of simplicity,
however much they lie. I die a little.
In New Orleans, snakes followed the flood
into the houses. They moved
like completely sane machines, able to execute
their bodies perfectly. Little storms all over,
coil after coil of mimicry.
How wise for the living plagues
to leave only their effects for archaeologists
to find—here is a life
to unearth, although eaten
farther down than expected.
It’s not the bowl of dust that lasts,
nor drought, cholera, or sting,
but the ax that cracked the attic
when there was no more breath.
All that will be found are homes and tools of stone.
Not what buried them into their unlit,
quick graves, but what saved them
a moment longer
Some come to this ruin and raise a flag.
Some take a prophet too soon by the hand.
The dead are still lost and the lost nearly dead:
Here a woman spills onto her porch to show
she has opened her wrists. What did she use?
She used the wind.
Katie Ford, who received a master of divinity degree from Harvard Divinity School in 2001, is the author of Deposition and a chapbook, Storm. Her second full-length collection, Colosseum, is forthcoming this June from Graywolf Press. Her poems have appeared in The Paris Review, American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, and Seneca Review. She has received awards and grants from the Academy of American Poets and the Pen American Center and is the poetry editor of New Orleans Review.