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.
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 Serpas has published three collections of poetry, Côte Blanche, The 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 marthaserpas.com.