Formatting error

5797756164_eca92b2e84_b_optThe weekly publication jWeekly published my poem, “The Afternoon Before the Day of Atonement,” which is great. Really, it’s a pleasure to be published there.  But there was a formatting mistake and the poem came out like prose.  I don’t think it works very well as prose. Here is the poem as I wrote it.

The Afternoon Before the Day of Atonement

I thought I would see seals asleep on the rocks,
but the cormorant was the real show,
wrestling a twisted length of eel,
persistently untwisting with its beak
to swallow it whole.
Then, as I watched, uncertain whether
I’d seen eel or kelp straighten and slide
down the long bird throat, it speared
into the surf and did it again:
unmistakably eel, writhing
for its life, no match for the skilled,
beak-tossing cormorant.

And the whole time, and afterward,
waves rake the shore,
and I wonder how to ask forgiveness
for being myself: merciless
like the cormorant, frantic
like the eel, thoughtless
like both, though I am designed to think,
a mindful tool, whose eyes engage the ocean
to sense the curve and crash of the infinite.

I take off my shoes and run along the lace
of waves, border between two worlds
that is never fixed,
run as the tide drives landward
and the land lifts and resettles
a little with each pulse,
run because I can, because my heart drives
salt blood through its intricate networks,
because I am alive
though many I’ve loved are gone,
because I am here on this glittering September afternoon
legs pumping, heart pumping, mind wrestling
with this slippery existence.


13 thoughts on “Formatting error

  1. This is my top favorite poem of yours, so far.
    It’s got it all.
    If I had written this I would be proud, proud, proud.
    even though I would have to fall.

    1. Thanks Simone–when I wrote this poem, I really fell in love with it myself. And I sent a copy to Galway Kinnell, who I worked with at Squaw Valley. At the time, it had a last line “swallowing it whole.” He sent me a note back, thanking me for the fine poem, and asking if I might consider dropping the last line. At first I couldn’t even consider it. Now, I blush to think it was there. So yay for Galway and his kind guidance.

      1. Love it. I love the reference to slippery existence at the end because it brought me back to the eel in the beginning. Such imagery…!

  2. Wow, Meryl, you swim with the big fishes, and so you should. I can imagine at first dragging your feet on that line, but as you say, “Now, I blush”. How often in this life do we find ourselves blushing?

    1. In my case, all the time! One of my early poems starts with the line: As long as I breathe, I’m going to embarrass myself.”

  3. This is exquisite. Looking outward, looking inward, being honest and letting the inspiration flow through you. I think this is my new favorite poem of yours.

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