Sunken

by 

Sometimes the children ask about the war, and I never know what to say.
I do not know how to tell them we lost to the gods
if you can call anything so capricious divine.
I say that demons swept everything into the water.
They have stopped asking when will we go home--
there is no home, anymore, unless you sink into the sea.

We rode the waves as the earth reshaped itself
as the ocean-gods ate our home, and my wife sang the mourning song
flat on the deck, tears indistinguishable from waves
like one of the dead we left behind us
a cousin who fled to the shore but never reached our outstretched hands.

There's land out there, if we can find it. We sail east, when the wind allows.
This fishing vessel was never meant for five families,
and one more storm will be the end of us all
but still, when we found people clinging on to flotsam,
all hands reached out to pull aboard anyone the sea didn’t eat.

But maybe it would be a relief to sink
to throw myself overboard and go where the dead are
to join my father, and my mother who would not leave the inland.
Maybe it is kinder to turn around and dive out, to sink, and at least in dying
be with our people instead of alone with the blue.

I look every direction for the other boats but I do not see the ships that launched
that must have launched from every corner there was coastline.
There is no fleet of ships, banded together for safety or direction—
we are alone in open water,
and all the lines of my maps bled like the mountain, oozing red ink.
I catch my wife looking back, sometimes, her eyes like salt
but the mountain is gone; the harbors, the valleys, our little house, all her family--
she ought to look down, now, that's where the dead are.

Sometimes at night I swear I hear birdsong; what bird could fly so far across the sea?
We must be close to shore, and so I struggle on--
my fishing boat crowded with people I don't even know
who climbed aboard and would have left us stranded in the wailing crush.
But there is no sight of land, just the songs of my wife. 
"Make me a bird," she croons, "so I can fly away."
Maybe she is growing wings under her dress,
maybe she has learned to sing like lost red songbirds
or maybe the open sea is slowly driving me to my doom.

I pulled her from the water, I dragged her up into the boat,
I saved her from her wool dress, water-logged to the knees
but in her mind she is still on the island of a thousand flowers
dreaming of picking lotus blooms beside her father.
I could build her a mansion in a new land
but no shore will bring her back to me.
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