It was a hot shower slowly going cold,
you leaning against the stall while the water stroked
your skin and drew small continents on the flesh
of your gently bowed belly, as you guessed
what they were: the sketches read like fortune cookies.
The songs on the radio were merely directions,
prescriptions for old antibiotics in your stuffed cabinet
next to vitamins and your husband’s toothpicks.
But they told you a tale like the ones of the night bird
arriving at the kitchen windowsill as you did the dishes,
stacking the pots on a yellow towel each night
while the TV and the daughters clouded up
in the family room, until all you could hear
was that black bird whispering long stories.
Could they lift you, could they show you
tempting locations: a garden of tree peonies,
flush bowing from branches, fallen heads scattered
on a pastoral path, gracefully spilled from the stem?
Was it the dream of Japan? Didn’t you say
it couldn’t have been a memory from a book?
It was more foreign than anything foreign:
usually something known, like a porch swing,
was mixed with something indescribable and sudden.
You’d later call it a biting draft, early in the morning.
Temporary Homes for Quahogs
You rise from a rock pool, those oases that remain once the tide rushes back to its berth,
stranded by the tide or awakened from pelagic sleep and ready to traverse the uncharted.
Either way, somehow forlorn, you wait and succumb to the charms of the dearth of water.
Here you can see the waterline, the razor clams, whelks, cockles—and even small hands that dart
and dip, in search of an easy path into the bathyal realm.
The young want a small shell to tell them, an utterance, an oracle from the depths
to remind them of what they only just slipped past like a drifting boat or a helm-less ship,
déjà vu, a missed dock, the rocks they hold in their tiny hearts, saying that nothing will be kept.
Tide Pools on Orcas Island
Under a brief rock,
stone apricot arms glow for
Mussels cling with grief,
those blue echoes listening
to the rock’s stomach.
Limpets mark coarse time,
breathing jagged shoreline, thwart
all else but high tide.
Far as the strandline,
a mermaid’s purse found hollow,
that black case, weightless.
she culls shell, fish, left old glass,
into her vast limbs.
Molly Kugel Merkner teaches creative writing at the University of Colorado at Denver. Her poems have appeared most recently in Subtropics and Poetry East.