Manoa 12.2 (2000) 60-61
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Thirst drove us to the poisoned wells,
but habit kept us near them.
The next good water, wherever it lies,
must be too long a journey from this place
now that the horses are gone.
As long as we boil this, it causes only
swollen throats, mild nausea,
a film on the eyes and tongue.
If our sight is blurred,
what is there to see but sheep?
If our tongues are numb,
what is there to taste but mutton?
We save the trouble
of hunting wild onions and mushrooms.
We could walk that way as far as the obo
where people leave stones
to honor the glorious warrior
whose name is written there.
But all the stones here have been offered.
You'll never find as much as a pebble
under the feet of our flocks these days.
Sometimes a traveler brings one with him--
pale orange quartz
or porphyry marbled with stony fat--
but when he places it with the rest
as a gesture to what's-his-name, the pile is still gray.
He rides away, blurred long before
he passes the horizon. [End Page 60]
She shivers, but not with cold,
as she saws out a thick white plug
and lowers her hook and line
through the lidless black stare
in the floor of her hut
Staring back a long time,
she begins to see movements take shapes--
looped and weedy tangles
that might be speech,
upturned paleness that might be a face
She's afraid a two-ton catfish
will bite and haul her down,
she's afraid nothing will rise,
she's afraid before she closes his skull
her father will open his eyes
On my sleep, where its current runs farthest
from any rooted island, there she floats,
rocked on her folded water-wrinkled legs.
The last few sodden fragments
of her ship have fallen slowly past
the unstartled lamps in the dark beneath her.
Still she floats, combing the water
with mother-of-pearl for mother-of-pearl
or watching the seaweed berries circle.
To the north, one head of the snake
with a head at each end swims steadily west;
the head to the south forges eastward,
and in between a stinging blue jelly goes by her
trailing its poison arms a day's journey behind,
in a sea so full of bottled messages
she could almost walk to shore.
Sarah Lindsay is the author of Primate Behavior, a finalist for the 1997 National Book Award for poetry. She works as a copy editor for a magazine-publishing company in Greensboro, North Carolina.