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Emily Porter


readingThe Ocean of Tennessee Valley

The ocean of Tennessee Valley
is a nightmare ocean.
Grey as slate and steel,
it hammers the black beach
like a vengeful Hephaestus
forging his iron chains.
Shoreline picnickers wear winter
jackets and smoke marijuana
casually, their sour scent
tainting the damp wind that
enshrouds me like
sodden wool.
The chemical high exudes
a lethargic cheer beside
glib signage that warns against imminent death
from swimming
in this monstrous body.

This beast is prepared to smash me
against the rocks and
spit up my corpse like some
invasive parasite.
Or drag me down and make
my bones a meal for benthic life.

Engrossed children play and play
in the soot-black sand,
pretending this churning Charybdis
is some paradise isle.
Lopsided castles are only
pounded flat by the advancing
armies of the tide
while indulgent parents,
arm-in-arm, take
family photos framed
by guano-smeared cliffs
and fog.

Birdsong rises from the sagebrush,
muffled in the heavy air,
soft accompaniment to
lilting laughter.
Two young women perch
contentedly on a rock that rises
jagged from the sand.
Faces close, enraptured
by the spell of their private joke,
they smile.

I abandon them and
escape back up the valley
through the manzanita
and the fire-orange poppies
until the hills subdue
the roaring surf.


Against Carven Stone

The stone fountain’s laughter meets
the wind from the river.
The drops fling themselves recklessly
into the air, longing to be a tributary
flowing to the sea.
Imprisoned, they cycle up and through and laugh
against the carven stone.

The river
carries all things to the sea:
leaves and fish and motor oil and commerce and play and nitrates and love and rain and rot and

sweet air through the valley.
Air that sweeps up, with a breath, to
thunderheads unreachable.
Deep in the cumulus fog
light lives briefly in desperate
flickers and roars its death
across the air.

The thunder calls to the water
of my heart,
ripples waves that break on the shoreline
of my ribcage.

Trapped, the water of the fountain laughs
and waits.
It laughs like fire--a crackling call,
but water is patient
in its destruction.
Wearing away hand-sculpted stone in
incremental drops, it waits,
as all water waits

for your return.

Cascade down the continental divide
and find your home
in the abyss.
Bury me there in the coral graveyard
where the thunder calls my
to the breakers
that swamped the levees.