Poem of the Week | July 01, 2008

This week’s poem is “Your Own Private Oil Spill” by Jen McClanaghan. It is previously unpublished. Jen McClanaghan has work published or forthcoming in The Iowa Review, Literary Imagination, Cimarron Review and others. She received her MFA from Columbia University and is a doctoral candidate at Florida State University.

“I grew up in Connecticut then moved to New York City after college, so the idea of moving to Florida for school struck my family as a very strange choice. Not only was I moving to the South, but Florida in particular was a state reserved for the future. In our collective imagination it was a beautiful home for the twilight years. I wrote this poem when I moved to Tallahassee for my PhD, and not only have I surprised myself by falling in love with the city (the canopy roads, the beach, the sinkholes, the oysters…), I’ve found it a wonderful place for writing.”

Your Own Private Oil Spill

Swimming away from my own
  island, I entered their party
before realizing what I had done.
  Let me begin by saying they were whales.
And we three were in a private ocean
  past the saltboxes and glittering yards.
Past the pea-colored trees and their loping
  boat shadows. Past, finally, the soft nape
of beachfront where evening sounds were settling in.
  I was driven to the dock by the man
I once loved. A few of my things already
  in the car in an airtight tube. There, too,
were my spoiled hopes of living on land.
  You may not understand that I wanted to rest
in the South with one animal who dreams
  of birds and the end of the bed,
but on this, for starters, we did not agree.
  Not to mention adjusting to a new way
of breathing. And what I haven’t said
  is that the whales were getting married.
I had interrupted the most delicate words
  of the ceremony but I couldn’t swim deeper
or away. And they, startled, kind, invited me
  to take part, which I did,
which is all I ever wanted to do.
  You may not understand also
that after love is your own private oil spill.
  And as a red barge drifts from view,
and the sky becomes another blue
  mammal as placid as the honeymooning
whales, you must adjust yourself, tidally.