It’s not the ocean’s job
to comfort me, but here I am
each morning looking outside
myself for succor. I watch the log
on the shore but don’t learn from it: the log
is too obvious, stuck deep in sand,
patient until waves work it free.
And the snowy plovers, scuttled with worry
in one skittery group, flapping
and settling like a bed sheet.
How much can we ask a bird
to carry? In the water
some form only visible
against foamy breaks—
surfer, shark, or something discarded.
Slick as a seal in my wet suit
I slip in after it. The ocean
casts its tide high and low, a cycle
I can’t set my watch by. If it has met grief,
if its heart has been broken,
I can’t tell. It carries me anyway.
After Surfing I Sit in a James Turrell:
Three Gems, a skyspace where the snug round room is narrowed up to aperture.
I watch light change blue, darker then paler
while clouds wander across and dilute. Everything is focused
on a single shaft as it moves across the room: light through interstice.
Not like this morning when I was lost for a moment in vast:
the ocean tilting at me as it fissured and cracked beneath endless sky,
waves cleaving, dropping me into jaded chambers, hiding
my surf crew from view. Which serves me best, I wonder:
the ceiling’s chink or the colossus? The bench I haunt
beneath the vent, inverted oracle, orifice that reveals just a slice,
or immersion in a whole cold universe: unfamiliar terror,
consort of shark and newly-emaciated whale? We are all so close
to what will kill us. Do I open, or do I close the passage?
There is more than one way to rift a sky, to seek
storm and light, a sun-bright wound and neon dawn. I travel
and wait. I take what I’m given. I breach that chasm, no matter the size.
This morning the ocean greets us like an eager puppy lapping our ankles, dashing away to instigate a game of fetch or some care—a treat, a tug of war. The moon is still out, whole, splashing sliver on the water’s dappled coat, and the sky is beginning to brindle with purple. I’ve never been one for animals, for the large demands of their love, and dogs in particular render people a special kind of foolish, though I’ll hardly admit my indifference to anyone but you, friend, reeling at the fresh loss of your 16-year companion, a pocket-sized pup—vegan, ridiculous yapper who wore sweaters and sported a limp after some ancient injury, who rallied back to life just last month, steroidal and carnivorous, though that re-invention was short-lived. I want to be a comfort after your fevered nights tending, but I don’t say as the ocean shivers up to meet us that I understand your grief or even dogs, how unconditional or eternal, how your arrivals must always be a celebration, the same waggling welcome I find when I slip into my second skin and come here to the shore to meet you in near-dark. Instead I remember to show you Jupiter, a freckle on the cheek of sky next to Venus’s prominent mole…or shall I say they are two bright fleas in a shaggy sky coat? The star Antares is dim beside them, heart of Scorpion, sent to sting Orion, lurking unseen this morning in the other half of sky, for his callousness toward animals—a story I think of as we walk out into the waves and I step on the back of a crab, feel the crack of its shell in half beneath my neoprene-slippered foot. Somewhere 100 miles south of us they are cremating your chihuahua, and you tell me you dreamt last night of dust motes and strange light. Are you wondering, as I am, if today we are breathing not just stardust and old matter, but Amigo, newly released to the heavens, who might have winged a single ash upon a planetary wind to land here like the moonlight? The waves are wolfish as we get deeper, tearing us from our chatter; you, I know, are hoping for a perfect drop, a slice across a jade face and maybe even a barrel, while I’m still riding froth and foam, content with the ocean’s scraps. We begin our tandem work, mounting our boards and stroking the sea, aiming to put ourselves in the way of pleasure.
The Birth I Had, The Birth I Gave: No Stillness, No Pause
after Frida Kahlo’s What the Water Gave Me
I moved here for the violence:
if I wanted still,
I would have taken a bath.
Instead I am pummeled
and a little breathless
in the waves,
their yellowed foam
full of briny ash
and toxic trash.
I’m tired of people telling me
from suffering comes beauty, but still:
let me suffer.
Murk and grey-green
hide my polished toes—
not even a glimpse
of upper thigh through warbled
sunlight, no reflection
on the toothed surface:
apple blossom or violet,
my parents crouched
in their separate caves,
a dress or skin I have slithered from
what I see in an instant
is gone as quickly, submerged
and held beneath
before being taken by rip
and current, spit out
eyeline and shore.
Ocean Beach Full Moon
Because I am almost ten years a resident of the West Coast
where all the searchers who were drawn by sun stopped short
and planted their strange flags on this shore
I know to blame the tumult of last night’s
fevered dreams on the full moon
which asserts itself through my uncurtained
bedroom window and wakes me hours before
the alarm. I can hear the sea wild in its cage
pulling me down like an element of tide before dawn
where I watch the bright coin begin to sink itself
into the deep pocket of sea. I’m not alone—others
have already traced their footpaths in the sand and in the water
black buoys bob: hooded surfers in the line up unafraid
of what circles in the dark beneath their toes. One
stands to scrawl his name across the face of a wave
and falls back into foam. The shard of moon
still visible grows pink in fluorescent announcement:
a splash of new orange across the smudge of clouds.
Dawn. It is the end of something. Or mid-point. Or beginning.
O, to be that crab
I just barely missed stepping on
as I made my way from the water.
How she scrabbled hard in the lull
to gain ground, legs akimbo.
How she labored
to drag her shelter, pale pink
and swirled like ice cream, behind her.
When the pull of tide’s breath
and shifted its course again,
how she knew
to fold in her legs
and let the water carry her.
Through soft ribbons of foam
she rolled and rolled and rolled
and rolled. Over glimmer of worn glass,
against stones softened
by sand and grit,
at the whim or mercy
of this greater force,
how she gave up control
and showed no panic.
Amanda Moore‘s poetry has appeared in journals and anthologies including ZZYZVA, Cream City Review, Best New Poets, and Mamas and Papas: On the Sublime and Heartbreaking Art of Parenting, and she is the recipient of writing awards from The Writing Salon, Brush Creek Arts Foundation, and The Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts. A high school English teacher, Amanda is a contributing editor for the Women’s Voices for Change Poetry Sunday feature, a 2019 Fellow at The Writers Grotto, a 2019-2020 Brown Handler Resident, and a board member at Marin Poetry Center. She lives by the beach with her husband and daughter in the Outer Sunset neighborhood of San Francisco. More about her work is available at http://amandapmoore.com.