Niamh

You go down deep.  Touch the white pelt of winter
ocean, stroke the sand that rolls like bear fur, white-edged

softness of loosed minerals.  Hair from the shore, seaweed
bands cold mouths around your burnt and salted skin.

You swim every winter’s day; the ocean calls your
feet to make their way to the violet mouth of foam

and periwinkles.  You feel them, clipped and silvered
under the ocean’s shell, for cold makes us immune to slights

and slivers.  A sliced toe on beach glass blooms to anemones
beneath the ocean’s skin, four months of slicing open winter’s

white-capped belly, sliding in.  Once I saw you swim, an otter
or a winter bear, and stopped myself, for why does woman

become some other animal when she enters winter water, hair
curly and gold-tipped with salt and frost?  Niamh, you move

slowly, shoulders rounded, fleshy pink.  If I painted you
another way, if I only said you lived alone, cuticles raw

with coal dust, I’d be forcing emptiness into your days that isn’t
there—for the ocean’s mouth, barbed with blue, and sea grass

moving soundlessly across your feet receive you: free of flesh
and time, swimming out to meet the waves as all sea creatures do.

 

 

This poem first appeared in Room Magazine, volume 32.2