Down the Leg of the Cliff

It was how I knew myself:

stripping down, sitting in chilled grit

then pushing off, skidding

over clay that sloshed up

into my swimsuit, caked my legs,

thickened my hands into paddles

and clotted to a puddle

at the base of the bank,


where then I spread it willfully

into all the hollows the slide

had missed—bell under earlobe,

gullies of collarbone and wrist—

smearing it so thick

the soft hairs couldn’t spring through.


Then I’d lie back on the sand:

a dull-null X, for minutes, days,

epochs, it seemed until


I stood, archaic, an illegible

tablet hobbling over rocks

to plunge under again,


my dry scales opening,

in small explosions,

then shuddering into dun-colored

curtains of fog.


Did I know then

it would never stop?

Cool sliding then this

skin again—raw—

that can be touched.


Rachel Jamison Webster is the author of September (Northwestern University Press 2013) and The Blue Grotto (dancing girl press 2009). She teaches poetry at Northwestern University and edits Universe of Poetry