3rd Annual Terrain.org Poetry Contest Winner
Selected by Suzanne Frischkorn
[when I died they found a nest of snakes in my intestines, their backs]
when I died they found a nest of snakes in my intestines, their backs embossed in pale rosettes: a tangled ball rolling in a damp lair spilling through the arteries. when the light hit them they’d go wild swarming and boiling deeper. in my palms they found the thick calluses of self doubt: the wads of sticky algae gathered in my lungs —they wouldn’t find beach-combed nests behind my eyes, or the— and they’d ponder: what a woman would do to feed such a stock what tax they levied in secret, what engine, what wick had lit so fierce a drive the mitosis split. what ecologist, what mud, what shore-side orchard would my kids [I’d write in the will] take these serpents and make boots of them ride blue bareback horses until you’re thrown and trampled everything that ties its shoes kissing will for-never be only enough. drink eagle’s milk. don’t forget to swallow the world: see! it’s already blushing: gyres aggregating unspoken dreams, islands rising the film will cool and crust on tectonic hips. nurdles are flowing. come traffic the blind lay me in a quiet pyre of cards (all clubs). cloaked in scutes. un-nested release the last trumpet of a desperate embouchure. they who ponder will sip coffee against their better nature—they will ask: what are we going to do with all these contaminated serpents? what was it like to know it was hopeless in the end? they will know nothing about the reptilian-neurotoxin-dance the shed skin: splendid
Somewhere beyond the curve of the earth, there is a ceremonial bamboo boat
which is starting to molder. The deep-water fish that follow it nip and suck at the fraying wood with hard lips. On board, the candles have all melted to stiff puddles, trapping in their hard pools tufts of human hair and the blue ash of homemade incense.
The paper wishes, for father’s health, for mackerel, the ones that haven’t disintegrated into the salty water, are nesting among the lost feathers. What the seabirds left of the fruits, rice, and meats are beginning to flower. It’s the kind of flowering that the dead do—crawling out of themselves. The offerings on deck bloom with rosettes of moldy colors; rust, burgundy, violet, three shades of green, so that with time the ceremonial boat becomes a floating garden.
There is a kind of art that is cultivated without intent, which is born and dies without witness. Inevitably, in the humid breath of a storm or the thrust of a rough wave, the collection is capsized. The cargo is met by swarming mouths, the eruption of fins from the water, but perhaps a few bits slip through into the depths. They twirl like shells towards what bottom there is to the ocean: metamorphic rock, colorless muck, or soft piles of skeletons.
Now, all that disrupts the orange dawn is the boat’s half-moon, salt-bruised belly. Abandoned by birds, abandoned by fish, it rocks through the swells like a coconut, a vagabond, a prayer. It trails a dark window of a shadow along the surface. Beneath are the waterlogged sails, rippling and loyal as ghosts.
Genevieve Leet wrote these poems on a fellowship to study Thailand’s coral reef decline and write place-based poetry on the experience. Her work has also appeared in Written River and Off the Coast. The 23-year-old poet looks forward to her honeymoon hiking the Pacific Crest Trail with her camera, notebook, and ice axe close at hand.