First Prize - 2019 Tower Poetry Competition, 'Underwater'


In a Room With Just Bedding

Her hands are thinned linen, with stitches and scraps

so soft and subtle over arthritic knuckles.

Bundled in blankets, dryly warm,

with milky essences of a newborn.


But inside, the inscriptions in Indian ink

of my name are submerged,

her speech, soggy with splitting-seams,

sentences seem scarce, she’s unaware,

that she has an infant’s scattered sandpit speech;

crumbling and slumping with too much water.


The woven wet weight. She shrinks down in bed,

beneath the flooding in her head.

She greets it beneath the surface of her breath,

but we cannot speak underwater.

Her eyes sink into her sockets,

retreating to think,

and her pupils show traces of fluid ink.


When I show her my babe

with his feathered hair,

his dry wisps of cries and rose-bud blush,

a cotton-soft shush

comes from my misplaced mother.

Her heavy hands draw out in fingers and thumbs

to tuck the cover up to his chin.


Eventually she sinks back down,

the fabric heavy on her frame.

Her wrists, their lavender-honey fragrance,

taint his fresh linen skin, and kiss

his head for her —as once she did for me—

and hold him in his blankets.


I remember, they say,

if a child is put in water

—without embellished word—

it will swim and re-surface.

He has found a place

that I cannot reach with my speech.

Where ink doesn’t run

and they know each other’s names.