Brittany Perham

Vinalhaven Island

The bulb of the ocean,
clam-rich, shoe-swallowing.
If you live here, you find a skiff that can make the crossing.
Safe-house, water-palace.
Small rivers the slippers
step over. Plaster-work, mosaic, a sailor’s alphabet
on the wall. First salt: mud
tasted in the arm’s crease,
in the black around the nostrils. Even the fog won’t shade
the light, it will only
disperse it. When is it
no longer the season to remember those lost to us?
At night I touch your back
as my mother touched mine.
Cow-slow, you move off into sleep. For years I have been caught
rowing home too late on an empty sea, a changeless tide.
At night I touch your back
and sing the sailor’s song:
For C, the cormorant’s
crossing and the clammer’s
coveralls dried in sun.
L for the leap of faith
that each one of us takes
when coming this far out.
M, the magnificent
claw-foot tub. The mosaic
mermaid’s showy sweeping
S: the skiff’s slight safe-house,
and the water-palace
you enter it through. O
is the ocean you lick
from the back of my hand.
There is no way to know whose arms greeted you, simply that
they must have been there: guards
against rock or pavement,
porcelain claw-foot or the underwater pressure felt
in the ears through too-fast
an ascent— skiff-eating
ocean (safe-house, water-palace) lost last from the nostrils.
There is no way to know
which man was the first to
carve the sailor’s first alphabet in the mud we’re clamming
in coveralls, licking
the salt from our elbows.
This is not the time to think of those who were lost to us.
Fog magnifies the light.
At night I touch your back as my mother (mother!) touched mine.

Brittany Perham
“Vinalhaven Island” is from The Curiosities (Parlor Press, 2012).