Carolyn Oliver’s poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in FIELD, Indiana Review, The Shallow Ends, The Greensboro Review, Booth, Glass, Lunch Ticket, and elsewhere. She won the 2018 Writer’s Block Prize in Poetry from Louisville Literary Arts/The Louisville Review, selected by Maggie Smith. Carolyn lives in Massachusetts with her family. Links to more of her writing can be found at carolynoliver.net.
to read in the room where you will not sleep.
An accounting of Trafalgar, jagged vertebrae
listing men, guns, ships taken, burnt, destroyed,
escaped. Did these few slip smoky into friendly ports,
break their shells against the rocks, groan home to rot?
Or did they drift south, into the horse latitudes
where mast-high men vanish in the haze
windless sails wilt, long-taloned thirst finds a perch
in every throat, and still the salt sun rises,
merciless. Calming and becalmed in your hot room,
boards creaking, nerve-knots fraying, your cannonball
weight aching my arms, I calculate how I’d fare
below deck, count the hours until the wary sailors
hammock-swaddle me, slip me overboard, gift
for the fish that rip flesh, the ones that lick bone.
And you? You’re the kind to swallow a person whole.
See how you’ve made of me a Jonah, cradling my whale,
charting us safe passage through the depths, where jellyfish
sway like drowning horses’ manes, and sting like love.