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Kathleen Graber

Kathleen Graber

Kathleen Graber is the author of two collections, Correspondence and The Eternal City, which was a 2010 National Book Award finalist. She is an assistant professor of English at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Self-Portrait With Hunger

That the ocean is always hungry is what
the West African woman braiding my hair
tells me when I tell her I live near the beach.
Every year, she says, some boy from the village
steps out into the waves & is consumed.
I am afraid, she says, her fingers flashing
above my head in the mirror, of the sea.
Once I gave a ride to a stranger hanging out
around the pumps; he leaned his head
into the car window, said he used to have wheels,
but his bike had been stolen by the kids
down the block. He just needed a lift
to meet a friend who lived in the white trailer
behind Shelton's Motel. On the drive, he told me
he'd been wrestling with The Almighty
a lot lately, ever since his cousins were lost
last winter when the Lady Mary went down—
seventy-five miles off the coast, two hundred
fifty-pound bags of scallops shifting in the hull.

The only member of the crew to be saved
had been sleeping in his bunk in his cold water
survival suit when he heard the alarm.
His whole body went numb, he told investigators,
the second he hit the current. He couldn't
even move his limbs to pull himself up
onto the raft. When we got to the motel,
no one was there. I made a u-turn, drove us back
the way we'd come. Late last night, I read
& reread the final lines of a poem by a Scotsman.
Love divulged, he writes, is barely love at all.  
It's only what's left once the ringing of longing
has been stilled. Give me a childhood again,
he begins, speaking to those of us incapable
of granting anyone anything. This morning,
I walk the dog & beyond the wind-scored dunes,
the steel breach crashes. Give me something back,
I whistle, into the pounding. But like an actual god,
it has no mouth, no belly, no wing, no ear


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