Poem by Jaime Silverthorn
Art by Maggie Lu
Sappho, under your coarse feet
the pricking splinters bite.
In mourning tides
was the ship steady?
The waves nip their breaks for you,
sip back the froth softer, bubbled.
Did the island slip under the algae blooms?
The beach was scattered with short swords that
stuck into your back to push you here.
Did you look for the glint of sun off the iron?
Sappho searches through the crowds for a genetic iris match
to reflect her own. I shade my eyes
when my mother cries, tears hold me drunk.
Did daughter run through the metal sands
to watch you go, the braids you
weaved bouncing? I twist my own hair now,
Mother never quite careful enough.
Leaving home strikes a match
on the door frame,
a bucket of water
poured around the ledges.
It never quite catches
no matter the scorch it might leave;
I have always had this door open.
I imagine how it would slam
in sleep and can feel waves
under my toes,
feel broad swords in my back,
left in the shifting spaces.
Sappho breathed like
salt chewing legacy from papyrus
in libraries that sank in Alexandria.
I miss the melody of her
sweet core with fig bites and
wine scrunch, grape sown,
I call her name now in sleep.
Daughter is silent in sharp sands,
glare blinding. She picks through the iron
bed hoping to find a mother’s hair
to save, tucked in cruel shells of
the armies and navies
She savors sun-blanked vision,
avoids Mother’s piercing stare
shades her eyes to keep sober.
Sappho and I know how to hold face
Frozen in sea waves bubbling with restraint,
though her goodbye echoes in terminals with a
mother’s red-rimmed lids.
But daughters hear the cut dial tone,
the dull buzz on Sunday evenings.
Mother’s breathing on the other end,
missed living across ocean sounds,
imagine the whispers of weeping sucked
from papyrus teeth in their reedy throats.
I lose pleated moments in my decision as
child, as Sappho, wrapped in both women,
my braids coming loose.
Does the blurring froth on the sands
eat our sad singing?
Pick up tones I’m deaf to?
We girls plodded shorelines
for rusting shells,
holding them to ears like the ocean
might tell us how far from home we are,
how self-imposed our exile.
How many songs weaved wars between us,
scattering memories and mementos
on beaches she can’t return to
when I’ve turned away?
The doorframe flames
when I step across.