Cathexis Northwest Press

© 2018 

The What-Happened; Ferry Poem
The What-Happened

after Eileen Myles


I am always nervous

& trying to leave

you. You’ve seen this.

Take a look

at all the green

in my bedroom &

find a single leaf

not falling over. You

won’t. You

should convince me

to stop spending

money on this.

You won’t, since

I fall short

of any real

strategy, as

you know. During

the busy, I am

still dirty even

when in order. I

have never caught

the bus I planned

to. Or had

correct change. I

am usually the

baby in the

buckled stroller

throwing my

blanket on the

floor. I smile with

water eyes

at strangers

making faces. Sometimes

I am the stranger

with the

face. Once I

lied to

everyone I knew

about my

middle name

to test

myself, to see

if I could keep

up. I

was never

caught. I

write because

it’s the only

time I ever

tell the truth

& that feels

good. The what-

happened will

come from

me and my big 

words. So I

record what

you say as

protest, believing

I’ll need it 

eventually as

proof. At 6

o’clock you

noticed that I

only have one

dimple and I wrote

it down. I


We cook

all day

because it

smells like

sex in that

kitchen, like

that time you

said you felt

like bread

in a toaster

in the sun-hot

window. I will

never forget

that. Sometimes

I can’t boil

water if

you’re not

home &

it’s terrifying

to be so

full of

you, even

though you said

that’s the good 

part and

I was embarrassed

to have

said anything 

at all, on 

fire next 

to your easy



Why shouldn’t

I write all

my poems about

this? I love

the way you

look on

the page, on

screen, your squishy 

body, your

glass of

water, how

you clear

the table when

I’m not

looking. I

compare you

to fruit. I

eat a lot,

listening to

my teeth


each sweet


Ferry Poem


On our way to the mainland

the bow bounces

like a ball in the thoroughfare

on a wave high

as the window. The horizon tips

green and then gray

and I have to go onto the deck

to get my nausea out

of the book I was reading—flipping

in my stomach like a fish

in a pet store bag.


And this is a moment I told myself

I’d write a poem

about, so perfectly total-body,


into e-brake cars and onto

white metal posts

and doors and floors while the wind

cuts through the big

horn and scratches

my eyes.


With my balance hands,

I think about the many impacts

of a car crash, how they tier

so that the finale—organs

of the body crashing

into inner skin—is the weakest hit.


With my balance hands,

I wonder how this works for the wave

in my stomach, what

is reducing the force of the wave

in the water, and

if anyone is studying this ratio.


I return to the coin-copper

cabin gust-crying

and thinking about the five senses, how

I’m pretty sure I can’t smell anything

while I’m spaghetti-legged, how

I guess I’ll have to let that one go.


When I fall

onto an islander

he is unconcerned, waits for me

to get off him,

says Yep, cares only about

getting back

to his book. He’s cool,

his ankle cool

on his opposite knee while

reflective vests walk by, nodding

to him by name.


On the bench I imagine

the two of us floating

in a blank white space,


sea-gravity. Our ferry,

this cabin, these benches,



I picture researchers

through a small window, observing

while I press my hands

into the invisible

bench and make myself

horizontal, bobbing up

and down on the wave.


The man is cool,

turns a page, checks

his phone. In the white

room, my face takes in the fury

of the sun’s rich

blossom, the candied sugar clouds reddening

before my tiny marble eyes. The scientists

clipboard scribble, see me

distracted on my way

to horizoning out of the sea sick.


My face, little blusher, sweats

for the southeast sunrise, my green eyes

reflect rainbow

all over the room—

everything everything everything

I can see

pours over their fluorescents

like a spilled

watercolor cup and

I’ve ruined

the poem again.

00:00 / 01:45
00:00 / 02:26

Julia Lattimer is the Editor-in-Chief of Breakwater Review. They teach creative writing and run a queer poetry reading series in Boston. Their work has been published elsewhere, most recently in Hobart.

I wanted to make "Ferry Poem" into a quadruple Petrarchan sonnet. But it was too dense with too many turns and barely readable. With this poem, I had to learn that obsessing over technicals can make it fail. Forcing the poem I want to write into the poem that wants to be written became the central conflict of "Ferry Poem," which splits itself open at the end.