from The Bottom

by Betsy Andrews

sea fairy, sea wizard, water-horse, sea-queen
picked clean on long conveyor belts and sorted by shape and size
how completely the meat is scooped from the shell; the world’s fell
from the skies past the satellite that guides ships beyond reason
in the season of bone-sad tides; are they wise, the drowned,
who’ve found stillness while the rest of us flail? the Northern Passage,
the Arctic’s third rail: fried fish and a polar bear rug,
our collective shrug as lethal as a blast pressure wound
evidence forgotten as soon as it’s archived; just the rats remember
that this spit of concrete between the highway and the street was once a wetland;
they scratch at the cracks there, hoping for water, and the daughters of the sinkholes,
the cloud-covered mermaids, sit down with soot in their fins

 

she’s been here before the back beyond, this spider crab, this scavenger, bandida of the nets
before the gluing and the ungluing of the wild, wild west
before the butcher, baker, and candlestick maker washed up in their jalopy,
and disembarked their sloppy ark of pigs and sheep and donkeys,
who, having nothing more to eat, ate the island head to feet and burped a pile of gristle—
the monkey flower, bedstraw, lace pod, paintbrush swapped for European thistle;
before lift-off for a missile christened Come When I Whistle II
from the mani-pedi launch pad of this island nicknamed “fantasy” in the Kali Yuga dawn;
before Santa Ana winked her eye, dry as a Hollywood gimlet,
and peeled and twisted yachts like limes beached on the rims of the inlets
before the island foxes rifled in the campers’ trash for snacks
the spider crab, headlamps on, humped her half-a-million burdens through the wrack
they called her grotesque, a tangle of tubers and ulcers and spines swiping their bait at the pier,
but language has no reason or rhyme for a crab with 500,000 babies and the next shed near
like Gulliver who hoisted Lilliputians to his shoulders, she draped herself in barnacles,
and the barnacles took a ride, with the air ferns and the moss dogs and the pink hearts side by side;
that was moons ago, when adornment had its purpose as disguise
and her shell was just another face to wear, then cast aside
an arm was just an arm then—she had ten; she could abide one being pried from her
by sailing men who played her like a lyre, plucking at her strings,
and in the do-re-me of branding, called her “California king”;
it’s a soup of stings, this ocean, it’s a salt-broth Try Pots chowder
full of vampire birds and whiskered pelts and other starveling matter, but she’s braved it
going soft each time, revising, one conclusion to the next, carrying on
until this last of last of molts, the final text; she’s done with drafts
doors and windows bolted, she will stay, at last, inside
the lesson of the crab, my love? advance, and then be still; in time, everybody dies.

 

gods and demons form a joint venture, milk Ursa Major for bile,
it’s life-jacket protocol for the doctrine of Limbo, flags up the ass of the Arctic;
past the bobtail squid and the cockatoo squid and the submersible holding the crackers,
past assonance, that headbanger’s ball that is science’s only real proof it exists—
say “bloody-belly comb jelly,” say “glasshead grenadier,” and science picks up the air guitar,
mouths the words to “Godzilla,” that fad of false safety that swept Japan—
past the abyssal bite of the deep, to its acid-burn belly to pan for Hades’s gold;
Cerberus unlocks his three deep throats and howls up a heavy-metal racket
at the gigantism of the high-stakes grab at Davy Jones’ gill-stuffed basket
in the now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t tussle at the raw bar, our lust for Persephone gone pelagic,
the International Sea Bed Authority the code name for a pocketful of sinkable hookers,
the key to the universe’s hotel room door an egg with an albatross inside 

 

in a Florida lagoon, the deflated balloon of a reverie moister than Jacques Cousteau,
a Grecian urn creamed in a shipwreck, the ocean a den of intrigue loaded with spy decoder rings
eyes the size of dinner plates, biologists blink at the immeasurable black
sorrow dog, like a blind Ganges dolphin, blinks her fallow eyes back
while polar bears, twinkle-toed, mince their way over the onion-skin ice
corporate weathercocks take the pulse on the plausibility of making nice-nice
“It makes me feel lonely,” says the islander clutching a one-way pass from the swallowed shore
the mermaids surf the crashing heat waves, the Gulag drips on the floor
in the hypodermic aftermath to the cryptozoological pool party, the Loch Ness monster nuzzles the junk;
at the bottom-captain’s all-hands-on-deck, the crew goes kerplunk for the legend of swimming cunts,
casting and casting and casting about for the Halliburton loophole in science’s latest brute scoop:
when a fish is yanked from 3,000 feet under, it cries like a baby
as its gills hit the juice in this meth lab we know as air

 

Betsy Andrews is the author of New Jersey, winner of the 2007 Brittingham Prize in Poetry (University of Wisconsin Press). Her chapbooks include SuperCollider, with artist Peter Fox (2006), In Trouble (Boog Press, 2004), and She Devil (Sardines Press, 2003). She is also the executive editor of Saveur magazine.

BOMB 124
Summer 2013
The cover of BOMB 124
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