Harriet Levin

Her Oceanography
December 16, 2016 Levin Harriet

Her Oceanography


A strand of algae leaves its rubbery
translucent swatch on her skin. Her first impulse
is to peel it off lest a horror
movie version of contagion unfold
and her skin turn zombie green–telltale alien,
more slime than flesh, attracting gnats, pin head skitters
moving so rapidly all is flux.

Her second impulse is to keep it as a totem
of subterranean life, a scrap chiseled
from things that are meant to sink. Deep is form,
like a snail that burrows into silt, shell
growing out of sludgy cravings.
A life-in-death feel. The croaks frogs make
drowning in natural desire. Believe me,
diving into this mosh pit, she does not
float softly through water.

Pond life is too shallow. No flotsam or jetsam,
sneakers, ice-hockey gloves, Chinese message
in a bottle. Even the dam’s stopped up,
no bigger than an oversized sink filled
nightly with dishes. No reputable
oceanographer will chart its depth —
another thing she’ll never know
about herself. Territorial and fiercely defensive,
rock bottom will not be reached.

To be essential something must be both deep
and wide. Eyes with skies in them. Upswept
lashes and brows. A western monsoon.
Dreams that stretch over many nights to mimic
the feel of sea-foam on ankles,
down to the cellular properties of summer.

Harriet Levin Millan is a prize-winning poet and writer. Her two poetry books have been honored with prizes from the Poetry Society of America, The Barnard New Women Poets Book Series and the PEW Fellowship in the Arts. She holds an MFA from the University of Iowa Writers Workshop and teaches creative writing and directs the Program in Publishing and Writing at Drexel University.

Her debut novel, How Fast Can you Run (Harvard Square Editions, 2016) is based on the true life story of a S. Sudanese refugee Millan met in Philadelphia through her teaching job at Drexel University and with her son helped reunite him and three other S. Sudanese refugees with their mothers. How Fast Can You Run was chosen as a 2017 Charter for Compassion Global Read and received an Independent Publisher’s Book Award.