Self-Portrait with Thorn & Sea

They say the salt and mud can make me 
Rain +better than I was yesterday or five years prior. 

I step out of my skirt and pull my blouse overhead, 
Rain +revealing myself to light, understanding the line 

between belief and submission is a smudge 
Rain +of pencil left on folded paper. I hold this 

thought like the bunch of grapes 
Rain +I plucked from a trellis early this morning 

and wade into the body warm in September sun. 
Rain +I bend and scoop whole palmfuls of mud 

the color of soil rich enough for gardening 
Rain +and cover myself like I would tomato seeds. 

I rub it across my arms and stomach, blanketing everything 
Rain +that shows with clay. Like one would a wall, 

I paint my face and neck until I am wholly that 
Rain +and walk deeper into the sea. Salt burns through 

a cut on my ankle left from wandering in a field of thorns. 
Rain +I wade so only my shoulders and higher remain 

air-touched. Salt licks my skin and licks my skin 
Rain +until I am numb to its thistle-sting. With each step, 

my feet lift like the weightless beginning 
Rain +that visits memory and early verses. Giving in 

to un-gravity, I lean back into velvet wet, 
Rain +sit in water like an Adirondack on a veranda. 

There is nothing around me but this. If I look to my left, 
Rain +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 ReviewNorth American Review, Salamander, Tupelo Quarterly, and other literary magazines. Her work recently won a 2019 Nazim Hikmet Poetry Prize.

Cover photo by Annie Spratt