First Edition: Poetry | The Afternoon Before the Day of Atonementby meryl natchez
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I thought I would see seals asleep on the rocks,
but the cormorant was the real show,
wrestling a twisted length of eel,
persistently untwisting with its beak
to swallow it whole.
Then, as I watched, uncertain whether
I’d seen eel or kelp straighten and slide
down the long bird throat, it speared
into the surf and did it again:
unmistakably eel, writhing
for its life, no match for the skilled,
And the whole time, and afterward,
waves rake the shore,
and I wonder how to ask forgiveness
for being myself: merciless
like the cormorant, frantic
like the eel, thoughtless
like both, though I am designed to think,
a mindful tool, whose eyes engage the ocean
to sense the curve and crash of the infinite.
I take off my shoes and run along the lace
of waves, border between two worlds
that is never fixed,
run as the tide drives landward
and the land lifts and resettles
a little with each pulse,
run because I can, because my heart drives
salt blood through its intricate networks,
because I am alive
though many I’ve loved are gone,
because I am here on this glittering September afternoon
legs pumping, heart pumping, mind wrestling
with this slippery existence.
Meryl Natchez is co-translator of “Tadeusz Borowski: Selected Poems,” and her book of poems, “Jade Suit,” was published by hit & run press in 2001. Her poems and translations have appeared in various literary magazines and anthologies. She blogs at http://www.dactyls-and-drakes.com.
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