Emma Wynn (she/they) received her M.T.S. from Harvard Divinity School and teaches Philosophy & Religion and LGBTQ U.S. History at a boarding high school in Connecticut. Her poetry has appeared in Sky Island Journal (which nominated her poem for the Pushcart Prize), West Trade Review, peculiar magazine, apricity press, and The Raw Art Review. Her first chapbook, Help Me to Fall, was a winner of the 2019 Moonstone Arts Center chapbook contest.
The sea’s glimmer has gone down
and I walk out on new ground
streaked with bile-colored foam
and tangles of wet weed, the reek
of the crotch of the sea.
At my foot
a half-eaten fish, silver-skinned
head and tail bridged by a ladder of bone.
A crab scuttles sideways
waving his clippers,
the gulls scream and dive
They empty him in swarms.
Some days it’s like this —
the mercy of men a flurry of beaks,
squatting in the sand
nauseous with exhaustion
and spent grace, trying
to open my sharp arms
to the emptiness
which is all
we can ever hold.
What you own, my father said
owns you, you have to practice
giving it away. In middle school,
he biked a paper route for months
to fill a tank with fish — neons,
zebras, fish with glass skin
whose stomachs glowed rose
at the heart of their outlines. Given
to a friend whose uneasy parents
tried to reject the outsized
gesture, but he made it a habit never
to look back. After grandpa died,
his favorite coat — faux chinchilla
with the chemical-green lining,
still smelling of pipes — in which
I slouched across college quads
until it fell to shreds. His first car,
the Black Beetle, undrivable with its
British wheel, his best friend Maurey
who stepped off into air
while hiking its invisible passenger.
Guitars left behind changing
countries, hundred dollar bills to waitresses,
a puppy. Till he was so light
he could walk away from anything.
The last time I saw him,
his pocket stuffed with plane tickets
breathing the steam of his coffee
and making promises, the gleam
of his eye and half-body hug
then his coat disappearing
in the snow — a trip I never let him
come home from. His daughter, first
to the punch, learned from the best —
you cannot lose
the things you give away.
MEMORIAL TO STELLER'S
The calves snort and wuffle in the canopy kelp
ten-ton fathers hovering like storm clouds
or a shoal of islands, grey and pitted.
Above them gulls, men flying
in bone smooth boats,
whose hooks, ozone bright
burn and catch. Then the drag
and crush of air, peeled skin
and almond sweet fat in soft smears.
Scratching a hunt on their bones — the spear,
the spray and thrash, round bodies
floating like moons. Carve it here —
everything that rises we harpoon.
RIDING IN ICELAND
The unrising sun only shadows the sky
as we climb the black rocks
ponies and riders threading the hills, where
the absent light lives instead
low in the moss that glows green in the gaps.
Our guide says you can drink a pint
back soft in the saddle as they race forward underneath,
the horses home only on this island,
but their tolt jolts me down the bones
and I can’t find my seat.
There’s no way not to be wet —
rain off hood and sleeve almost snow, and the air
puffy with fog. At the top, the rock walls disappear
and nothing takes their place.
We dismount creakily for lunch, the ponies
muffle at the sparse grass as we gnaw
soggy bread, wondering what it would be like
to ride the world, not as tourists, but saddleless
easy and shaggy in the drizzle
with a gait wholly our own.
All through France and later Germany when his unit
settled for the night in copses, barns, town houses
with bombed-off faces, tents in mud — my grandfather
readied himself to survive as for prayer.
First he’d find a piano, buy time with an egg
then wash his socks and hang them to dry
before morning. All around him footrot
and privates drinking kerosene,
swaying to their own shattered music.
So he came home unbroken, contraband Nazi
banner ripped from a pole smuggled home in spare trousers.
Married glamorous goyim women,
tucked a baby grand under a velvet quilt
at night, bought a silver keter for the synagogue,
furs and theatre tickets, pickled tomatoes
and sandwiches fisted full of brisket.
Demanded burnt toast in diners,
kept a beautiful beard
and four children, a Cadillac.
Remember, my dad laughs,
when he came home sometimes
to leave groceries at the door, you could just
wave goodbye to him going down the stairwell
if you ran? My aunt puts her hand over his.
In her house, last year’s Christmas tree still hangs with glass
glitter and brittle brown arms
one slip from going up in flames.
At the piano he pounds the fallboard
as I fumble notes and cry, grandfather bleeds out
in Beth Israel, it’s late and Dad’s car
tears out again, on my bedroom wall
the red wash of headlights shrinking into the night.
We sleep easy as soldiers,
until it’s almost a relief to hear the bombs
begin to whistle their way home.
A PERFECT MOTHER
Last night the boys fought in their sleep —
whining each other’s names and kicking,
until I rolled the baby off to slot myself
between them, burning.
All day long my eyelids creak.
The little one is hollow-leg hungry,
and begs for the swing
until my elbows ache. This poem
swelling like an abscess in my throat.
Lunch, a vegetable, screaming.
Finn toddles into the bathroom just
to check where I am — here!
They must see it —
my brittle smolder,
brush rough through their tangles.
How I want to swim out
past the buoys
and just keep going.
Instead, I lift Finn into the bucket swing
and set it going
back and forth, apologizing
in silent rhythm.
Pushing him away
over and over, as
regular as rain
he rocks back, laughing,
into my arms.