A top 15 winner of the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award 2017.

archimedes’ principle / summer displacements

by Ella Standage

this can’t be real. the air is pink, and all
the birds have migrated. when my mouth breaks
the surface of the water i kiss the ripples, taste
chlorine, remember salt. shake off the dream
like water droplets. we drive to the beach.

i’ve never been in the same place twice: the earth
doesn’t stay still long enough, or i don’t hold on
tight enough. locations can only be relative. but
the ocean empties and refills itself, and is always
the same ocean. in antarctica an iceberg yawns
into the sea, and the water level does not rise.

freediving scares me. i’m worried the water
will push its way through capillary cracks
and hollow me out like a sea cave, fill my veins
with salt. wind haunts the tunnels it can’t reach:
where rockfall chokes the passage / where water
slumps at the mouth and drowns it / here, where
blood eclipses itself and light has never touched.
i think about veins in the rock, flooded with brine,
and the tide thumping, a lunar heartbeat.

i think how a wave could slam me against the roof.
the water level rises with each heartbeat, and
when i look down all i see is unconsciousness
blue. thick enough that you’d need a knife to cut
through it / cold enough that it could make you forget
what breathing is. i feel how sharp the rock is
under my palm. how small this air pocket.
gasping inevitable. choppy seas today.

swim down, then up. stars pop behind my eyes.
when i break the surface water still sloshes in my
chest. here ice is only a melting anxiety. a cliff
sleeps under the waves, and liquid light glances
off a white rock and giggles back
in green, wavering green.

midnight and the drive back, the tide
snoring, the ocean / asleep in the backseat of the car.
i fall into the water again, float, eyes half-closed.
the pool lights are so bright i can’t see the stars.

later i will sleep through a lifetime of julys
and ignore the water leaking onto my pillows.
it’s just the usual summer displacements, i’ll say.
nothing is where it should be. even without
headphones the world feels muted / dreamlike
/ unreal. the ocean empties and refills itself.

at the beach where the air is pink, i try
to hold onto the sea but feel it slipping away
like a promise, until the tide’s heartbeat
tells me what i already know:

that the ocean is always the same
ocean. that breathing is inevitable. that
my heart’s been underwater all this time.

The Poetry Society was founded in 1909 to promote “a more general recognition and appreciation of poetry”.  Since then, it has grown into one of Britain’s most dynamic arts organisations, representing British poetry both nationally and internationally.  Today it has more than 4000 members worldwide and publishes The Poetry Review.

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