Poem of the Week | July 18, 2016

This week, we are excited to present a poem by Sarah Crossland. The recipient of the 2012 Boston Review Poetry Prize, a 2013 AWP Intro Journals Award, and the 2013 Pablo Neruda Prize, Crossland has had poems published or forthcoming in Crazyhorse, Shenandoah, FIELD, TriQuarterly, The Iowa Review, A Public Space, Denver Quarterly, Guernica, and others. She currently lives in Charlottesville, VA, and is at work writing a book of poems about the Romanov daughters and Russian fairy tales called The Winter Palace. You can find more of her poetry at sarahcrossland.com.
Author’s note:

In the summer of 2010, I moved up to Boston for an internship, and—because I was subletting a fully furnished duplex—moved, in a way, into someone else’s life. Coming from a white-walled, cookie-cutter first apartment, I was enamored with the ancient crystal door knobs, the spilling ferns, the bright new Oneida silverware sorted by use in its drawer. It seemed like litanies were everywhere. I wrote the first version of “Litanies” there in that other poet’s dining room, swooning in front of my lone table fan. This is a poem that I have edited, no hyperbole, more than a hundred times. I think of the paradox of Theseus’s Ship: if almost all of the lines of a poem are switched out, discarded, or fitted elsewhere, is the final poem still the same poem I started writing six years ago?




What we forget the ocean will return to us: elm drift, ghost
nets, beer glass, a child’s blanched and unlaced shoe—the gift
of shipwreck. In sailors’ myths, the sisters walked out
from the waves, through the black sand, and held out a fortune
of shells to the sun: rusty dove, ladder horn—each hollow kept
a breath that would weft and wander through our world, the first
currency. I remember how—a child—my lungs would last
the length of the pool as I busied kicks beneath it. Wet, my hair
became tangled as the sea itself, spray-plaited, until close
to midnight, in citronella’s cloud, the double-sided towels
wrung dry and spread across the chain link fence
as if wings, my mother would retrieve the wide-toothed comb
and brace herself. The sound that came from my mouth
must have been from before the time that we had words
for pain: the night ate the echo, and the stars—like teeth—
chawed until their light was gone. How can we know
what we have loved if it does not first leave us? There was a man
I wrote to when I moved north. I missed—of all things—
his shadow and his tongue. Among the buoys dried and hanging
from the dock bars, blue paint chipped from all the years
they floated, I imagined us again: two halves of a Janus and stripped
to the waist, the space between us thin as a river killed
of its fish. He did not hold me and let me shiver like a lily
bewitched with light. It was six hundred days in there, the air
only clocks and parnassians, ticking. I kept my breath
as if swimming a fevered channel and came to understand
that without language, there is little difference between the pieces
of our world: sean nós, elegy, smoke and animals, you and I.
Our ancestors once had two words for water: the first inanimate,
abiding, the second living as a god. The same was true of fire.