by Sarah Marquez
At my feet. Blocking the way in and out. Blind-head
twisted back. Skin-wings outstretched in a mockery
of flight. Dead.
I step over.
I wonder why this doorstep, why today, and who
pushed it from the nest, or if it sensed death
and fell (the ground is unforgiving). I leave it
for the ants and practice being indifferent.
You take me to the beach we call
Santa Monica, but it’s all the same sand from here
to San Diego, to Santa Barbara, that my feet sinks
into and sand crabs bury themselves under.
The same water that rushes to shore and wants
to carry unattended children out to sea. They are
taking off their sandals. They are waiting.
We walk under the pier where the sun can’t
cast its spell on us, where pigeons gather and nest,
and pigeon eggs fall from the sky, empty, where white waves
reach far as they can before being pulled back. You are
still in your shoes, and it doesn’t make sense.
Walking barefoot is what we do. We feel.
We understand without measure–
I looked for a lonely person like me,
not unlike me.
I prayed for you, who called.
We find a new restaurant by the beach. We fill in
for another couple that canceled their reservation.
We are seated at the last open table on the patio.
I eat a tree for the first time–heart of palm in my salad–
and you don’t order a side with your steak. You
expect to be satisfied, but this is quaint dining. You are
not hungry, but you are.
The day has become soft like my shadow. I thought
it would be sharp here, in late June, buzzing of hover flies
everywhere. I thought I would sense something.
At some point, before you drop me home, we will have sex
to stop talking. We will love our bodies–even the parts
we do not love. Because it is breaking in: the inverse water,
the opposite dark. Because it is breaking in again.
Marquez’s poem begins with a strong image: who among us hasn’t, while walking somewhere, come upon the tender tragedy of a creature (whether bird or other tiny beast) that has reached its death? We know this to be the reality of things for all life, large and small, and including each one of us. As described in the opening lines, the hatchling’s “blind-head / twisted back. Skin-wings outstretched in a mockery / of flight,” such delicate, innocent loss of life sets the tone for a date-at-the-beach poem which has plenty more to captivate the reader’s intrigue. I am taken with the narrative as it builds through each progressing stanza, telling a story of romance, nesting pigeons, “quaint dining,” and slight indifference between two people who, during sex-to-stop-talking, love their bodies, “even the parts / we do not love.” And why should it be any other way? Why do we divvy up the large swath of sea and sand into particulars of Santa Monica, San Diego, Santa Barbara? Where does one begin and the other end?
The inspiration for this poem is my in-progress manuscript, exploring the concept of a new relationship being wild discovery and quiet learning through small gestures. I spent days experimenting with different line breaks/images/forms before getting it just right. Which is to say, writing into small gestures is more challenging than it seems. But poetry is the perfect vehicle to do so, and I’m grateful to have it.