portion of Ronnie K. Stephens' artwork

Barking at Seals
Ronnie K. Stephens

It was a strange feeling, the earth swallowing us.
River of black mud, odor of bile and leaves
and sea, flowed upward. Thick waves rolled
heavier and heavier upon my shoulders.

Sinking into a burial ground is easy. The carpet
is soft. The tomb deep. It wants to hold you
the way a mother will.

We are on the docks. A coffin ship is boarding.
I am not a sacrifice.

This vessel will not carry me
where I do not wish to go.
She hands me a forget-me-not,
green leather and hand-bound.

The first entry is of her nightmares.
We are drifting down.

My shoes will not move.
They are in the clutches of my father.
Do not go, he says. You are not for the current.

I curl my toes, my arch, the bend of my knee.
These are my only pair of shoes. You are laughing.
Standing still and rising into the abyss.
I am of the floor; it marries the hills.
There are no stars. A flower winks.

Mud licks my ear. I did not invite its kiss.
The road is three feet away and my right leg is loosening.
I clutch your hand.

How did you get free so fast, I ask.
This bog is not deep enough. It wants a prisoner.
Face down. Hands bound.

I step from the shallow tomb.
I am not a sacrifice.

I will not give myself to you. Take my hands;
my God I want to breathe the memory. It is so fresh.
The cuffs of my jeans are heavy. My father has not let go.
I cannot see.

Let us return home, you say.
Show me the way.
I am my grandmother.

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