'The Drowned Sailors' by Helen McClory
It would be best if we didn’t live here together any more.
You like the smell, that’s what you’ll miss. You like the smell of rot on the shore where we staggered to stay, the fumes off our mouldering tar boat huts, and the North Sea itself, cold and humid. A chill territory, a grey steppe with no heaven on any side, but everywhere to be gone. You would have taken longer to know it, if things had been different. If I were to ask you again, at the mouth of my wood stove, with my damp mementoes strung above to dry, though they never would, if you would bide again on the Pacific, on that island where it was always warm and the sea was always giving its blue cracked flavour, and the people knew you, and were your people, you would say no.
You wouldn’t mean it, but you would mean the gesture of saying it.
I told you you don’t have the grace for oblivion, and you told me to stop reading poetry. It’s not right that a dead thing should keep how to read. It’s not right for the dead to miss. You muttered at me to keep quiet. Your hand running across the bands on your throat. I said fine. Just as you were leaving I hauled that fishhook out my leg. It had been in there a long time, the flesh was pale, swollen around it, and I meant it to hurt. And for you to see. Though it couldn’t, though you did not look. And here I am, scrawling, after all that. I still mean all my gestures, if not my intent. Like you with the pipe smoke, though you can’t even taste it. The rings it makes, passing through our stubborn light.
I think of closing my eyes, of sinking into the black weeds, letting myself be pulled on the tide, against and against the juts of volcanic rock. It will do for my purposes now, to make of me fragments of form. An absence of meaning and absence of done, a lost message, finally rubbed clear of ink. A piece of mute sea glass at the bottom of a trench.
I have nothing to leave, now you’ve left, and only a little I wish to take. The lingering memory of your petulance. The drift of our drowning, our years living it, while the town huddled up the coast, while ten thousand miles distant our wives slept in their twin shoreside graves.
The knowledge of your hand as you gripped me, once, warm, when we fell.