Goddess of Open Mouths


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“I dig because I am hungry”
– Margaret Atwood, from Digging
(Selected Poems, 1965 – 1975)

I was nineteen
when I first saw the ocean.
My fingers locked with my lover’s
that night, and the wet grate of sand
on my feet
was a new satisfaction.

She was nervous.
I held her hand,
felt her thumb rub circles near my own,
and I knew
we wouldn’t last the year.

Ten ‘til midnight and falling clocks
ticked down from ninety-nine
to a new millennium.
It was supposed to mean something,
they said,

but there was no apocalypse at dawn:
we did not return to caves;
tails did not sprout from our asses,
nor gills from our throats;
we did not club one another
in the streets
for scraps of bloody meat
and clean water.

Around us, fish-reek and musk,
seaweed sex smelled
like the beginning of life,
not the end. And when the gold
and red spiders
finally lit the sky, nothing
had really changed at all.

When the world grew quiet
again, the distance faded gray,
and in the place of night sky
stood a green lady—
a mother colossus wading
towards shore.

Sea glass eyes, thick
blue bottle-bottoms
fused together in her big frog face.
They caught sparks of light
from the ashes of tiny sky fires.
She was monstrous
in her beauty, with shiny scales
like polished armor to seal her curves.

Her skull was oblong, fused
to her shoulders, it seemed,
in an interminable shrug.
Ruddy feelers, mouthy suckers
snaked gorgon around her head,
while others bore faces, tiny,
independent, blinking and staring,
asynchronous and laughing,
independent of the mother’s body,
of each other, as are we all.

She nursed starfish at her breasts.
They gripped and sucked, their little points twisting.
They gripped and sucked, like babies pulling milk.
So hungry. Hungry.

Something writhed
where her body met the water.
I thought of eels like a tree skirt,
of leather whip-cracks
cutting the air and skin
electric gifts, weeping
blood for drink in primal delivery.

Hundreds of vermicular bodies
spewed from her mouth.
They spilled into the waves as
new births joining
the thrashing spawn,
the sea water life, and she, I knew,
was endless.

My lover couldn’t see.

She couldn’t see her,
and my heart shattered.
I already knew
she’d not worshiped at the temple,
never turned herself
inside out with wet stinking fingers,
ripped her own throat raw
for the sake
of some small kindness,
for a chance to be filled.
But I’d hoped. I had still hoped.

I swallowed briny spit,
ever patient, and watched
for the great lady’s wave.
I mourned her retreat,
and promised to wait.