Poetry: Renee Ashley

[because I am the shore I want to be the sea]


But you too know this: the wanting to be what you cannot—except by extension—and the bearing of those secrets so immeasurable not even an ocean can conceal them And in the ocean’s failure the mountain shows its hard side its watershed steep with its varied waves of not-sea its gravities and declivities its runnels its hummings and echoes vaulting against the inner ear a passel of unruly birds against a pearled tympan even at the pan-flat center of the smaller world where time takes its man-made dip and leans towards the west as here on our eastern brink we lean towards the west and what we can prove we are: a little snatch of fatty meat or more some  water a rakeful of invisible wrack a faggot  of bones and  what you suspect—a far  more interpretable sea—sticks and stones a little salt-worn glass


And there’s your figment of the whale-tinctured sea figment of the great green of want of the lift and drop the necessary grains  beneath and between  So you throw something anything into the water and it reminds you of a story which recalls for you a scene The green becomes the cover on his taut-made bed and he is sleeping there atop the soft chenille The  white  sheets pulled tight beneath  He is fully clothed  He is fetal when he sleeps one hand above and one hand below the  undressed pillow that buoys his head up as  another smaller one will later  when the bullet’s entrance still seeps and a pillow is entrusted  with both the head and the hole—like a keepsake—but for now you dare not wake him he is peacefully asleep and with any luck at all unaware of what gets tangled every waking hour on the slim sea ropes of his genes And the little snow there is arrives  at an angle to the sea tripping on the wave of his upturned hip the bone there and that white  is not the  cloud tips topping  the strand but the fallout of a great tenderness  and for that sleep is known to be a smaller decease like the bottle like the many like the going away again to catch his breath and then coming back again For him it was all like drowning


Then the paper sea And your dream of the paper sea You have kept his notes and Evangeline and your friend Stv. said Funny Stv. said to you It’s afternoon here and you’re in a later time zone there Write a poem about that please but so far not a bit of luck Though you thought and thought and not far from here there are starlings falling through an abandoned sky iridescent commas with beaks and feet What can that possibly mean? They’ve been downed in the colorless air The farmers are nodding The cattle are showing their spines The chickens their tumbling stones Those starlings are striking the earth like clods of dark earth The dead should not be allowed to rain Don’t read the daily news Too much found in the cogent sheets so far from the reasonable sea Not like the sun stench of sea wrack not like sea rope at your ankles with the gasses swelling There is no time zone where he will be sleeping and sleeping and not going down


And it all spills over you the one who did not save you and her gate-leg of blindness You swear she can breathe under water and yet she is blameless You have always understood the argument of the thorny spine narrow sea of glass wed to the not-glass toughened and determinedly not seeing Sea of hours Sea of never saying or of saying it to the wall that would hold back the sea  The world is encoded indelible with lonely and sorry  with no with please with no that never happened Sea of not-knowing and unknowing both There is water all around now but you came from the pan-flat center of the smaller world where the blackbirds gyred in the niveous blue and the sky was the only sea  You did not choose to be pulled down You were so far west there was no west left and still See How could you ever have known You never in all your life could have known


that there are other deeps spotted from the brink of the mountain the what you did or did not do or turned to or have become What you want is what you want unpoetic simple—raw meat—and then there is the riptide A body in the swift green valley is burning while another to its west is overcome by what would put out the flames Time is heating up and travels at all speeds in all directions Stv. said You’re in a later time zone there Please How much later can it get? It pulls from the breakers a wail guttural grave vibration and wave pressing the body back so the body falls this one more time wanting over and again wanting not to want and will die complaining and in want of just catching that last un-fathomable breath

For me, a poem usually begins with a title, an image, or a rhythm—or the three in one. I’m not a fan of ideas as a starting point—ideas work best in prose; they become deadly in a poem, at least under my hand—and I hope, every time I start a poem, that my right brain will take me to some lively inner place, after which my left brain can clean up the mess and align my discoveries. “Because I Am the Shore I Want to Be the Sea” began as a title, probably at a moment of some morphing desire. It’s also possible that every moment is one of morphing desire. I’m rarely satisfied with what I do and my want changes more quickly than my thought or action, than my intent or achievement, more quickly than I can track, really. I suppose, if I handed the left brain the reins, want could become a lyric essay. But by the time I wrote it, in my glacial prose, I’d want something wholly different. Want’s a trickster, far wilier than I—and so often preverbal, a sort of quantum leaper. I am not nearly so nimble, alas.

Rip Tide (800x660)Renée Ashley teaches in Fairleigh Dickinson University’s low-residency MFA in Creative Writing and MA in Creative Writing and Literature for Educators programs. Her books include Salt—Brittingham Prize in Poetry, Univ. of Wisconsin Press; The Various Reasons of Light; The Revisionist’s Dream; and Basic Heart—X. J. Kennedy Poetry Prize, Texas Review Press, as well as two chapbooks (The Museum of Lost Wings—Hill-Stead Museum and The Verbs of Desiring—new american press) and a novel (Someplace Like This.). Her fifth collection, Because I Am the Shore I Want to Be the Sea will be published late in 2013 by Subito Press. She has received fellowships in both poetry and prose from New Jersey State Council on the Arts and a fellowship in poetry from the National Endowment of the Arts. Her website is reneeashleyatwork.com.

Painting by Win Zibeon