Late spring, nights still cold, the stars clear
as spotlights, people I love keep dying.
Every week a different shocking loss:
cancer, gunshot, embolism, suicide, on and on.

These sudden gaps leave me
feeling like my mom did after her stroke:
when the neurologist asked her to identify people
in photos she could name only those

on the starboard half. She’d stare, silent,
confounded by who we swore she’d missed.
Later, when asked to fill a blank clock,
she packed 1 through 12 onto the right side.

They say the earth’s 71% water, the body 60%, that
we share the tides’ highs and lows.
If anyone dies today they’ll be kelp and fish
while I do dishes, check daily lists.

I sink to the bottom of the ocean
in my dreams. I cross trenches of primordial mud
filled with lives I can’t pronounce.
Asleep, I’m certain the deceased come back

as deep-sea creatures, pale and blinded
by sunlight. At these depths none of us are dead or
we all are, and together we sway
at the mercy of the moon.


Click here to read SM Stubbs on the origin of the poem.

Image: “Underwater Sun Texture” by Heath Alseike, licensed under CC 2.0.

SM Stubbs:
A few years ago I went through a two-month spell where I lost five people who had been a part of my life. Some were close, some were more casual, but each hit me harder than the one before. It felt as if I was losing pieces of my world. Several years before that, my mother had her first major stroke. I spent hours listening to the doctors as they put her through a series of tests to determine how much damage had been done, and the most fascinating ones revealed that she had no perception of the left side of herself or the world. She could see it, knew it was there, but couldn’t name or identify it. The clock exercise was particularly revealing: given a circle to fill in, she wrote 1 through 12 in the space between what should have been noon to 6 o’clock. The poem is an attempt to understand that displacement, as well as a recognition of how little we actually control— including our own brains.

SM Stubbs
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