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2013 Georgia Fee Residency Writing Sample (8 Poems)

Remembering How to Swim (Excerpt, first 5 poems) 



I am born

in a hospital

on the coast.

I have the ocean

in my blood.

I drink it in like milk

through my mother’s breast. 



Learning to Speak


I learn the word yes in high water 

when choppy waves clapping

with my thighs nudge me forward. 

Fear is learnt as many kisses

to the mouth and to the eyes,

kisses that burn and taste of salt.


I still search my bathing suit

for the last dry piece of material

to wipe away the water.


Through low tide whipping the back

of my ankles, I learn the word no. 




Nostalgia looks like a view

of myself standing behind

a camera filming another little girl

whose same memory of childhood

is being tossed inside the blanketed gathers

of gnarly waves and crawling as deep inside.

The lens is always grainy with sand, the oscillation

of muffled song and cries and the passing,

in and out, of dirty water through my ears.


I was whispered to once in a struggle with the sea

and was told that next to leaving quietly in sleep,

drowning in someone is as peaceful a way to die.


Name Calling


I say mema for mother,

or the woman who raises me.

She is always slender,

her pink and white striped bathing suit

baggy before the water wets it.

Until a few years ago, she keeps it

folded in with sweaters, belts, and hats

in her closet. Instead of dropping

me to school in the morning, she drives

to the beach and we lie across the shore

and I listen to her. Our bottom halves floating,

our top halves grounded to earth

by elbows. Then we build the homes

in sand that we want in life.


For da da, I call him uncle.


And even that word tastes silly

in my mouth like putty

or some other dough kneaded

and rolled into a ball then remade

into something else. He gave me a push

into the water with heavy hands

and turned his back. After he had left

for the last time, I learn the ocean has no floor. 


House to House


Memory does not pack neatly

into suitcases and boxes,

neither do oceans. I’ve forgotten

the reason why we leave and the house

we live in next, and the one to follow,

only that each grew further away

from the water. I’ve forgotten if mema

remarries and how many times

or if my sister is born afterward

or whether I know how to swim,

the memory rhythmically falls behind me

like the sound of the water moving quietly at midnight.





Is she miserable, sullen-faced,

Can you still count worry gathering

In dark pools under her eyes?

Is it funny that I miss her terribly,

The way she holds onto

Ache like memory,

You’d think it was a god.

She, so full of fear, it freed me of my own.

So sorrowful, she reminds me

Of my mother who hid under

The weight of us all, we

Crushed her already spare shoulders.


Does Ada still hum amazing grace at her desk

As if she were running breathless,

Still seeking

To be saved, like my mother,

Whose greatest misstep was being born not a bird?


We’ll Burn the Bridge as we Cross It


I can’t get past the scar on your nose.


You say your brother never forgave himself

for taking his eyes from the road, running

into the metal dividing median.

You, thrown from the car

onto the side of highway,

and your mother watched it all like a play.


I see only the scar when we talk, my eyes

wander the thick coarse walls of the river

and travel to the tip, the uneven patch of color,

the shitty stitching performed too quickly

to piece the halves into one. 20 years later,

the scar looks as though

it was glued onto your face.


At night the jagged patch of skin glows

under the light of the TV,

while we lie together.


I Thought I Saw Afghanistan


I thought I saw the girl


who left me for war


in the parking deck


of the new mall in midtown.


Turned away from me


and bent forward,


she placed large bags to the ground.


Her body still slender, her arms


now carried the size of rigidity,


her hair, choppy and dry


as if it had been hacked at,


 wrecked with frailty all the same.


I wanted to run, pull her


to me by the wrists


like a mother finding her child again


after he wandered suddenly


from her side --


I needed to steady her face


in my hands to search her eyes


for silhouettes of something shattered,


the only thing I know of war.



Posted by Erika Jeffers on 3/30/13 | tags: poetry poems

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