Cathexis Northwest Press
The What-Happened; Ferry Poem
By: Julia Lattimer
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 remember. 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 cool. 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 sink each sweet chomp.
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, falling 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, simulating sea-gravity. Our ferry, this cabin, these benches, invisible. 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.
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.