a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society

Liza Katz Duncan


Love Song: I wanted to be surrounded by water

Tonight, at the end of the hottest summer on record

after three consecutive record-breaking summers,

 

my husband is hooking up the gas generator,

 

dragging the porch furniture into the shed. There’s a flood watch

until 8 P.M. tomorrow and people are bracing themselves

 

for evacuation. Some people don’t choose this. I did.

 

I wanted to be surrounded by water. To find home

easily on a map. To mark, on the shoreline,

 

its disappearance. I wanted my children to ride their bikes to the end

 

of the road, climb over the guardrail and watch New York

gleam across the bay. I wanted children, despite the dying world.

 

I wanted streets with names that were self-explanatory: Harbor Way.

Shore Concourse. I wanted to rename myself, too, for something

 

tangible. These are not good reasons, I know.

 

It made sense at the time, to see the disaster site

from our window. More honest, maybe. We weren’t afraid

 

to evacuate, to empty a flooded house. Couldn’t grasp, even, what there was

 

to be afraid of: we’d been there before. In my husband’s box of old papers,

there is a journal entry from the flood of ’92. They slept on cots

 

in a school cafeteria for days, waited in the dark.

 

The rest is history: the bay receded. Those who still had homes

went back. There were other floods, other children

 

who grew up and went away, or went mad. I did, for a time.

 

I had no ties to Boston, made no sense

against the backdrop of a city skyline,

 

but it’s also true, at sunrise, over buildings that blocked the sun,

 

migrating geese chalked fine ribbons of light through a violet sky

while the moon and streetlamps exchanged halos.

 

That is to say: I wasn’t here, not when it mattered most:

 

the wreckage, the cleanup, the fallout. The bay rising

so softly we barely noticed. Don’t misunderstand: this was the place

 

I had to write myself back into, if only to watch it fall apart.

 

Tonight, my husband and I drive to the bay to watch

the benign clouds, the sun sinking over the factories.

 

When we turn onto Shore Concourse, the water

 

is already at eye level. It’s not even

high tide yet. It is too much to fathom.


Early Spring, I tell Kristina about the baby

Kristina leaves her front door open.

I spend so much time here, she forgets

 

to apologize for the clutter on the table,

or for her daydrinking. Not that I mind.

 

Days like this, she’s so far gone

she barely remembers anything.

Winters, she forgets she lives here.

 

It’s easy to forget in the dark

when you don’t see the bay rising.

 

On everything she owns, a watermark:

a stain on the outside of the house. A ring

on the bookshelf where, carelessly, she’d placed

 

a mug of hot whiskey. Even her shin, where she’d rinsed

a cut from the blade of the car door.

 

You’d drink too, she told me,

if everything of yours had washed away.

Baby or no baby.

 

I thought she’d be happy for me,

but my happiness now seems

a luxury—I’m old enough, too,

 

to mother an eight-year-old child alone,

a girl already fleeing the house at every chance,

already turning to others for comfort.

 

I’m old enough to know

what it’s like when bay winds

shake the house, when the ocean

 

swallows the streets’ jagged edges,

but she smiles. No. You can’t know. Not yet.

 

I’ve found her, again,

thinking about drowning in the bay.

 

Her history of objects already

swallowed in it: coins, stones.

 

An Earthenware planter where, deadheading,

she’d cut her finger.

Glass bottles, measuring spoons.

 

You can’t know what it’s like,

she says. She’s right. The world that is dying

 

outside the snow-bright window

is not my world.

 

Not my Earthenware planter,

not my watermarked house.

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Liza Katz Duncan is an MFA candidate at Warren Wilson College, a 2021 Pushcart nominee and a 2017 recipient of an Amy Award from Poets and Writers. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in AGNI, the Journal of New Jersey Poets, Poetry Northwest, Poet Lore, The Cortland Review, Permafrost, Phoebe and elsewhere.



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