They say the salt and mud can make me
better than I was yesterday or five years prior.
I step out of my skirt and pull my blouse overhead,
revealing myself to light, understanding the line
between belief and submission is a smudge
of pencil left on folded paper. I hold this
thought like the bunch of grapes
I plucked from a trellis early this morning
and wade into the body warm in September sun.
I bend and scoop whole palmfuls of mud
the color of soil rich enough for gardening
and cover myself like I would tomato seeds.
I rub it across my arms and stomach, blanketing everything
that shows with clay. Like one would a wall,
I paint my face and neck until I am wholly that
and walk deeper into the sea. Salt burns through
a cut on my ankle left from wandering in a field of thorns.
I wade so only my shoulders and higher remain
air-touched. Salt licks my skin and licks my skin
until I am numb to its thistle-sting. With each step,
my feet lift like the weightless beginning
that visits memory and early verses. Giving in
to un-gravity, I lean back into velvet wet,
sit in water like an Adirondack on a veranda.
There is nothing around me but this. If I look to my left,
there is one country. If I look to my right, another.
Tara Ballard has returned home to Alaska after eight years abroad. Her collection House of the Night Watch (New Rivers Press) won the 2016 Many Voices Project prize in poetry. Her poems have been published in Bellingham Review, North American Review, Salamander, Tupelo Quarterly, and other literary magazines. Her work recently won a 2019 Nazim Hikmet Poetry Prize.
Cover photo by Annie Spratt