Poem of the Week | July 24, 2017

This week, we are excited to offer a new poem by Amanda Hawkins. Hawkins’ poetry has been published or is forthcoming in Orion, Watershed Review, CRUX, The Yolo Crow, Edible Sacramento, and Christianity and Literature. She received her Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Regent College, and her work has been supported by Dorland Mountain Arts Colony and a scholarship from Napa Valley Writer’s Conference. She now teaches writing at William Jessup University, is at work on a book of poetry and a book of prose, and lives with her beloved and two children in Northern California.

Author’s note:

I wrote this poem in the crucible of my first writer’s conference. I had spent the prior six months writing a full draft of my current poetry manuscript—producing two to four poems a week—and I thought I knew daily writing. But at the conference we drafted and workshopped a new poem every day, and the intensity required to climb into the marrow of a poem so fast and so utterly in public meant I had no time for avoidance or wizardry. My images—and my manuscript, the poems I wrote, even I as a person—at once and painfully broke, and the questions and suggestions that had quietly roamed through my poems finally took form. I have a strained relationship with my religious history and tend to want to run in the opposite direction of those subjects. I wrote the poem in a moment of exhaustion.

This poem is about many things, but at its conception it was about that breaking point–right before a person or prophet changes direction and follows a call. Prophets and their stories tend to take on mythological proportions, but in the end even Jonah is just a person who has something to say. The poem is about the longing to fulfill that call and facing what it would mean to change.

 

Mythologies of the Deep

 

I want the body
blue in its skin
to forget
to tread water in open sea—
don’t want the drown
so much as sink
so much as stop
fighting.
Boundaries can be needs—can be keep the waters in check—
can be I don’t want
to go there yet.
I’m not talking only oxygen,
I’m saying I want to forget—
want to pry the body open

at the base

like a bivalve hinged

and waiting.

How soft is that raw muscle on the tongue?
What is
reconciliation?
When the sea beast swam

hard to the surface to feed

the kayaker raised his paddle
to push off the great tongue.

When he told me this the sun was still low
but I was already forming
crystals on my scalp.

I thought of Jonah tossed into the sea.
I thought of all the other people like him
swallowed by beasts,
sent by some god or ghost—it is
almost all the same.
But I did not dive into the water after he told me—
did not try to wash the salt from my skin
or high hail it to shore sore afraid.
Would you believe
I wanted all the more
to see that beast?

Someone once said
we tell ourselves stories
in order to live—

I tell myself
to believe.
I want the body whole to know

the drift and drowse of immersion,
and also the prick of effort collecting on the skin—

the salt
that does not know distinction
that forms

on the body’s surface—

 

those hard, precise prisms.

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