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

Susan Rich

What I Read in the Rising Tides

with a line by Rilke


Most nights as I walk the shore I gaze

at the festival of gulls and beautiful girls,

all with wings and places to go.

My mind moves like a cloudscape

over striped flashes of blood orange and beach rose.

I read the texts of the tideline—

the iridescent stones and seaweed,

driftwood and silt.

Against so strong a current you cannot

advance. And yet, we do.

And some days I watch a caftaned

woman playing trumpet to the outgoing waters,

some nights I meet a man un-digging his coffin

in the sand. Lovers and tough mothers, new-borns

with fathers who coo in Creole. We nod briefly.

Our pockets fill with dark chocolate kisses

and coins too few for the seaside bar.

What compels us from our houses

even during a pandemic to smoke

and swim and skate?

I look out in new bewilderment

with all the others watching

our bright failures, our sea-lit joys.

Terra Incognita in Time of Corona

Let us map our conversations

with song and a swirl of orgasmic

honey—for your body, for mine.


Cartographers would draw sirens

and griffins in spaces the world did not

yet recognize—the soon-to-be-colonized waters


watched by benevolent monsters of tide and wind.

What legends lie beneath our constricted symbols—

beyond smiling winks and hands pressed to a screen—


as we compose in modern sentences

braiding sorrow with seduction? What happens

between us as we listen in portals


that widen after midnight to

Zimmer’s, Interstellar, leading us

into another dimension? We find our bearings


in the ether, measure this in the opening

of our glowing forms, in the green orbs

of an ellipses…in untested longitude, in latitude,


in the transitive studio of night.

We summon new wavelengths of pleasure,

startled forms that cajole our bodies


into the taste on the edge of the tongue

like the first lick of island rum.

We stumble over non-attachment, no safety net—


no promise of a post pandemic map

imprinting us along one corner of a continent

or another—only this handheld device that rockets


from shoreline to doorframe to nightstand.

Which music shall we cue up next my wanderer—

which thrum of internal rhyme?

In the Museum of Scent and Sense

Naomi writes of being famous to the buttonhole;

I wonder if what she means is fully known?

I want to be known by the cabinet of your being—

its zenith of laughter and its burdens that flutter

towards me. Terrance writes that “making love

to yourself matters more than what you learn when

loving someone else” but I’m not sure he’s right.

I prefer the nugget of otherness, the scuff of your

thought; the simple anatomy of two lyric selves.

What would Rilke say about lovers in a pandemic,

alone, from his borrowed castle, pacing the halls

after midnight muddling the cook’s dreams?

Unable to sleep or pray there’s nothing left for us

but to bring our refuged bodies together. Not a departure

from the day exactly, just a distilled thimble of pleasure

of scent—like the ancient colognes in the Musée du Parfum

in Paris—alive and animated within us; still waiting, still wanting.


Seattle poet Susan Rich is the author of four poetry books, most recently, Cloud Pharmacy, Shortlisted for the Julie Suk Prize, and The Alchemist’s Kitchen, Finalist for the Washington State Book Award. She has earned an Artists Trust Fellowship, a Fulbright Fellowship, the PEN USA Award for Poetry, the Times (of London) Literary Supplement Award and a 4Culture Grant. Rich’s publications include Antioch Review, Gettysburg Review, Harvard Review, New England Review, Poetry Ireland, and World Literature Today. She has two collections forthcoming: A  Gallery of Postcards and Maps: New and Selected Poems (Salmon Press) and Blue Atlas (Red Hen Press).

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