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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.


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Ebb Tide

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  

       and briefly

               he flies.

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.


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.


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.


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!

Where else?


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.

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