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Abyss


If a good love poem requires a little darkness,
how far down can I go? Thousands of feet?
The coelacanth is near, but it's too easy—
the metaphor nettable and clear, the lost
link found, the beginnings of our own bones
in its pelvic fins—and I want to write about love

with depth to hold the unverifiable, the oarfish
that survives with half its body gone.
I want it to hold the giant squid no one has seen
alive, strong enough to scar sperm whales;
sailors have claimed its tentacles unfurl
from the night's water, taking down their mates.

But can such poems survive these confused witnesses?
Can they handle the scanty evidence that surfaces:
the mottled sick and dead, the night-feeding
viperfish impaling victims with fangs
at high speed, its first vertebra designed
to absorb the shock? And how much horror

can this poem sustain before you forbid me to say
some call this love, the hagfish that bores
into the unsuspecting body, rasping
its flesh from inside out? Am I making you
uncomfortable? The pressure at these depths
could crush a golf ball. Are you cold?

Or is it enough to be awed by the blue-
green photophores of the lantern fish, the brief
and brilliant light displays? What the lights say:
I want you. Not so close. I am moonlight;
I am not here. I would eat you raw—

tell me if you want me to stop.


Katrina Vandenberg

The Alphabet Not Unlike the World
Milkweed Editions


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