The Keys

It seems I have to convince myself of happiness,

even here, as we leave lawn chairs and magazines

by the pool, tall glasses of iced tea, to walk along the beach. 

Waves gum the shore, seaweed twists and piles

in clumps like hair and we watch silver fish

we don’t have names for thread the shallows

like bits of cellophane.  Our feet make

a nursing sound in the sand,

and, way out, a rock juts from the water

like an option we hadn’t thought of.

I want to swim to it with a sharpness

so rare it’s relief.  I want the water’s drum and pucker,

its slip through lips and long unbuckling

tendons, our brown heads side by side

and crowning. . . . But you’re not interested,

and why is it I want you to want what I want? 

Do I worry desire will loose me

like one of those miniscule eggs,

our life’s unchosen, if you don’t? 

I go on, and smoothly, clopping the water

until it’s not at all like I thought,

not rock, not constellate of calcite and shell,

but something softer, swampy—the sodden

trunk of a pole pine gently rolling,

its branches yards behind and under,

hooked in sand.  It’s darker than anything else here

on the bonetip of Florida, it’s as far from home

as my stroke, snapping open

a yellow flag of fish now,

scaring two thumb-sized crabs

over the craggy curve of their world. 

I slip under, walk my hands along the trunk. 

It’s been here long enough to become covered

in black and white barnacles

shaped like small mouths saying, oh

Come out, I want to show you

the way water rolls the wood

and pours the living centers of the shells.


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