Adrienne Su is the author of three books of poems, Having None of It (Manic D Press, 2009), Sanctuary (Manic D, 2006), and Middle Kingdom (Alice James Books, 1997). Her awards include a Pushcart Prize, an NEA fellowship, and a residency at The Frost Place in Franconia, NH. She teaches at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, where she is poet-in-residence. Recent poems appear or are forthcoming in The Kenyon Review, The New Republic, New England Review, and Southwest Review.
By the Sea
Wedded to plans, we make them happen,
straight into the eye of a tropical depression,
water halfway up the tires, ferries potentially
canceled. The plan’s to find tranquility
between the uphill of going and the plateau
of having gone. That night, the inn, though
waterlogged, serves hamachi and oysters
to an echoing hall. Next day, clearer,
at least one bride goes by: it’s that kind of place.
Bowls of perfect apples adorn the hallways;
no one minds directing strangers to the lighthouse.
It’s too cold to swim, which to me is a plus—
I’m at a loss in full sunlight—though here,
the beach behaves like a season or color,
incidental, a circumstance. One of us always
remembers the way; one of us has the key;
if only I’d known what was possible then.
Or so we say as rising waters undo more plans,
then make them again, into something else good.
The land wavers. The sky seems to know it would.
I’ve never called it that.
It evokes too freely: checkers,
fire drill, ancient secret,
zodiac, laundry, whispers.
Is it my culinary self
that objects, because it isn’t
parsley, or my research self,
because its homeland isn’t
China? One could venture
it’s spent enough centuries
there to be considered
citizen. It goes so speedily
to seed, that’s thousands
of generations. If pressed
to explain my aversion
to the term, I’d attest
to the difficulty, amid
shoppers and vegetables,
of trying to decide—is this
week, or is it minestrone/
all shorthand ends in parsley.
Cilantro’s the better partition.
Again we’re paying for crimes
we didn’t know we’d committed: being smart
or beautiful, able to throw a discus too far.
Normally we’re doing the unglamorous—
answering mail, hanging clothes to dry—
when the thunderbolt splits the workaday sky,
high, capricious wrath transforming us
into rainclouds, rocks, or squirrels to be chased
by our dogs, the orphans we saved
from gas or the needle. That morning
we’d bought phosphate-free detergent,
voted, biked, declined a prescription,
but the gods were furious. Was it something
cruel we thought, the vagueness of our piety,
distant tragic news we didn’t take time to read?
The turning point must have been small,
that leatherbound journal with acid-free paper,
the little black dress, days of clear weather,
a glimmer for which we didn’t give thanks,
though we’re unsure to whom (it feels like artifice)
and it’s never been clear where to leave the sacrifice.