All that’s visible

is a ribbon of coral,

briny phrasals above a ledge nearly

erased by silt and scalloped water,

ghostly and opaque.

Beyond is the dead outer shelf,

its tragic red surge of blossoms

bruising the abyss.

What to do?

The others have entered

the freighter’s wrenched hull,

their light beams sliding like opera gloves

along the awkward deck and sides.

I am left playing with goatfish

on Ten Fathom Ledge, like the forbidden

step off your grandmother’s porch,

the first plank as far as you will go

toward the long bright yard, the pitch

of children rippling from a swing.

Why not be content with spadefish and nurse sharks,

the confusion of gravity, the wise bezel

that grasps all our time as bottom time?

A gentle surge toward the wreck, lifts, pauses,

then sloshes me right back on the ledge.


Everything lasts forever: the jetties,

sand, sky, pipers, even the pebbles

of sea glass, cobalt, old as lace

doilies. Others can walk down the beach

toward thin shacks and driftwood shelters,

toward haze and mist. I’ll sit on an unclaimed

log, which has drifted here, for now,

and watch a midday sun crystal

on the waves. Don’t be fooled:

The Gulf is not a polished cruiser

or a V-hull on the dock.

The Gulf

is not a flatiron idling

between sets of bowing waves.

Its striated water lifts itself inch by inch

and closes in on the shore.

It is alive,

playing its chords, humming its undertow.

You will be welcomed on your back

as it slides its dress collar over

your thighs, runs its breezes and tensions

all over you. It will welcome your face floating down,

closed eyes or open, breathing

August’s strong sweat.

It will welcome you a thousand times.

It wants you to practice sinking

and feel how much you belong.

Others can walk the shore’s silver brocade

and pace back again.

Don’t be fooled: The sky is complicit.

There’s no discerning compass here.

The wings and water pull equally

toward the beauty of transparence—

cirri, sea fans, music, love

and the pans and stirrups of pelicans

which weigh that anything is possible,

but that nothing has to be.

Martha SerpasMartha Serpas has published three collections of poetry, Côte BlancheThe Dirty Side of the Storm, and, most recently, The Diener. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Nation, Image, and Southwest Review. A native of Southern Louisiana’s wetlands, she co-produced Veins in the Gulf, a documentary about coastal erosion. She teaches at the University of Houston and serves as a hospital trauma chaplain. More information about her work can be found at

Volume 2.1 Fall 2015

Cover of the Yale ISM Review Volume 2.1 Fall 2015

In this Issue

On the Cover

A Blessing Over Waters

The Water Worlds of John Muir

Praying for Rain in the California Drought

Ten Fathom Ledge

Walking on Water-Azurite


Water in the Book of Common Prayer

Why We Need an Altar Call to the Font

A ‘Saguaro Church’ at Worship

The Rain: A Funeral Story

Stormy Weather: A Homiletic Essay

Hope Travels Below Sea Level

Water and the Spirit