We once thought we could fathom the vastness of the sea
from the lap of an island shore. Watching ships
tip over the horizon, we knew nothing
could survive the fall past the edge of the world.
We did not see how, deep beyond the continental margins, submarine
canyons channeled secret rivers onto underwater plains, or how
the abyssal fish slowly went blind, their unseen lights
speckling the cavernous dark.
In our sleep we hear
the seabed groan with the weight of all its shipwrecks,
lift its hem, and settle into a hot embrace
around the mantle, the sulfide pools simmering through its cracks
where it presses close to the magma light.
Here I chance upon the sparkling clasp of a coral reef necklace
tracing a line from one atoll to the next.
Following it I leapfrog dashed borders, beginning
to contrive an idea of you
from the contours of these countless coasts.
The geological record says we are five centimetres closer
every year. In geologic time—perhaps,
if you were a reef and I, an archipelago—we’d meet
at a faultline in the next eon and crumble together, leaving
a new continent where we were before.
Today, we stand knee deep in the shoals, losing ships
to the horizon between us. Salt sifts
between our toes.
When you laugh, it almost feels
like those ten million years have already passed.
They don’t tell you there are fewer stars
in some places than others.
The city frightens them
with the threat of their obsoleting, and they hide to save
their light. There are fewer stars in places where personhood
They don’t tell you alienation is spelled
in unfamiliar constellations. Astronomic signposts dip
out of sight, occluded by some dark enormity
as the jet crew slides the planet
between you and your homeland lights.
You lack context and it shows.
Streetlights here are a strange colour, stirred and filtered
through pigment washes of aged grime, graffiti, someone’s
purse, the rats–records of changing walkways, a sky
they mirror and defy.
You have been told there are so many lights in every city
that they are visible from space stations–even the highways, traceable
with one’s finger against orbital glass. You envy astronauts because
through those interstitial windows, they might still glimpse
Standing deep in the city’s gullet, you clumsily
triangulate the route
of your signal beacon home.
A subway ceiling intercepts it, humming its reply.
The day I learnt self
was once spelled selbaz I realised my lexicon was full
of fickle male lyrebirds, stealing
chainsaw refrains and shutter clicks for their mates
and that warships are she’s because
they’re grand and ineffable
and let’s admit it, because captains are men and men
linguistically deserve their women, even though ships
have no genitals
nor lips to protest it.
And in class we’re told that they
is too potent to be wielded by a person alone
because sacrosanct subject-verb
agreement doesn’t care for the nature of self
and you’re either he or she or error
and errors make people uncomfortable
And then we are taught to squirm
when such errors are made.
Because my card says F
and my body lies, she, she, she
spelled somehow from G A T C
and they answer, she, she, she, she
as if words in libraries could orchestrate the building of cities
as if Alexandria were an armoury
as if I were a ship.
Are you a girl or a boy? asks a pair of bright
pink lips. “I am a girl
a girl,” I parrot
“and I like dolls
because of my karyotype”
And I’m standing in sneakers and self-hatred
at the washroom door as I slide into another she
though I have not been able to bring myself
to wear a dress
to wear my double X
for a decade
and I’m just a liar
speaking stolen words
but the one that lays the eggs
without his pharyngeal virtuosity.
Their genealogies are manifold: there is no record of where
they were sewn, or sutured, as with a wound.
Dismember their home as they may, they eat from
the same tarnished pot, the same boiled grain and though
they may spit and rinse the taste from their mouths afterwards
they return to the pot, and it reminds them that they share their seed.
I do not think they severed their own roots
merely lost them in transplant: trees and rivers
do not bear the names of raindrops that fed them.
They are afraid to admit
that when they open their mouths to speak, they hear
their siblings’ voices. And this is not a theft but a becoming
as grasses become each other, as rains become each other
seeping into foreign soil and calling it their own.
Meeting you the first time was like
burrowing fingers into fragrant soil after rain
to find earthworms, curled up like springs and summers
in the notches in the feet of trees.
And in some vernal ways too it was like
the sun glowing through green cocoons above
the swing, revealing maps of veins
and corpses melting to nectar
soon to be stitched and unfolded as butterflies.
But passion like all flowers greys too soon and when
we began shrivelling into gnarly things we started
to understand that you were a rhyme short of a childhood
and I was the tattered rind left by the calling birds
when they’d finished the fruit.
I cannot put a name to it—love, or regret—
which, like the twining branches, become a little more
indistinguishable with every turn of the light
as their boundaries knit into each other’s
It leaves but a crumbling aftertaste—
or a wish for one—
of a vestige of sunlight in this winter ache
and of earth-dwelling creatures
entombed in frost before
We first heard the humming of the cosmic
microwave background when we hung
satellites in our ionosphere and recorded
by accident the conspirational whisper
of radiowave noise
–a love letter
from the faraway galaxies that we
exalted in our flickering screens, like
schoolchildren pledging romance–
that radiometric anomaly
is the sigh of a lover finally acknowledged