Poem of the Week | March 05, 2018

This week, we are excited to offer a new poem by Joanna Solfrian. Solfrian’s first book, Visible Heavens, was chosen by Naomi Shihab Nye for the 2009 Wick Prize. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in journals such as The Harvard Review, The Atlanta Review, Boulevard, Margie, The Southern Review, Pleiades, Image, and also in the internationally touring art exhibit Speak Peace: American Voices Respond to Vietnamese Children’s Paintings. After graduating from the Stonecoast MFA program, she was awarded a MacDowell fellowship and nominated for two Pushcart Prizes. She is sending out a second manuscript for adults and is also working on a novel-in-verse for middle readers. Joanna lives and works in New York City. Learn more at her website.


Elsewhere, the sea is the floor of the sky,
but here, the sea is the roof of the underworld.
Tiger rays ruffle the sand with aconsonant travel
and collect messages from the dead.
When the ray is still, he is deciding
which messages to tell and which to bury.
A girl floats on the surface with one ear
tipped downward–
she can hear who will die next
but hasn’t the words to tell you.

Author’s Note:

Many of my poems’ “triggers,” à la Richard Hugo, are factoids. I like them for how seemingly disposable they are–even that “-oid” ending means “giving the appearance of,” as in, maybe it’s not really a fact. Years ago, when preparing for an upcoming trip to Mexico, I read some Mayan history and learned about the cultural significance of cenotes, or swimming holes. The ancient Mayans would sacrifice a child in the cenote because they believed the hole to be a communication portal between the living and the dead. (The child was supposed to communicate until she drowned.) At least I think that was the fact; I read it a long time ago. Memory’s warp makes it an “oid.”
Fast-forward about ten years to a recent stay at a beach nowhere near Mexico. The sun was shining. The earth was generous. I looked out to my daughter swimming and saw a certain tilt of her head, and, ooph, there she was–a girl treading water in a cenote. Because memory doesn’t give a damn about dates, both girls got to be alive, in a small way, for the same moment. I like that.
And that was the trigger–root word meaning “pull,” from the Dutch–to write the poem.