by Jen Karetnick


The ocean that lives in all of us
speaks in disambiguation
when we don’t want it to

at least mine does

and though I make my home
close to waters with uncomplicated
near-shore bathymetry

shallow and pickling as plasma

where Spring Breakers
can Instagram themselves
on Stand-Up Paddleboards

doing terrible yoga poses

against impossible sunsets
puddling on the bimas of horizons
(and really who could ask for more)

my ocean like a god is not a kind one

it roils but does not ramble
it blurts and fountains
it has a razor clam tongue that lashes

tender animals like other people’s children

and spotted micropigs
genetically modified as corn
my ocean makes itself known

in every phase and amplitude

you can hear it across the room
annoyed as the mother you never call
don’t fuck with my ocean

it doesn’t have sharks to fear

it is the shark you fear
my ocean is your mother too
who breaks down the door

when you’re a teenager

you who also has an ocean
that keeps talking back
when it should be receding

my ocean like a god never recedes

but sometimes it withdraws
for a brief breath-holding
leaving the lagoon alack

the fish gut-sputtering

like the remains of candles
among the plastic water bottles
and Publix bags still filled

with beer cans just beginning

to rust in their macho creases
only to come clawing back
bigger than it has ever been

louder than it has ever been

or the same it has always been
throwing itself over dunes
and sea walls complete

and unconcerned about the collateral

damage it’s always never not causing

The winner of the 2018 Split Rock Review Chapbook Competition for The Crossing Over (March 2019), JEN KARETNICK is the author of eight other poetry collections, including The Burning Where Breath Used to Be (David Robert Books, 2020) and The Treasures That Prevail (Whitepoint Press, September 2016), finalist for the 2017 Poetry Society of Virginia Book Prize. Her work has appeared widely in publications including Cimarron Review, The Hamilton Stone Review, JAMA, Lunch Ticket, Michigan Quarterly Review, The McNeese Review, The Missouri Review, North American Review, One, Ovenbird, Prairie Schooner, River Styx, Salamander, Tampa Review, and Verse Daily. She is co-founder/co-editor of the daily online literary journal, SWWIM Every Day. Jen received an MFA in poetry from University of California, Irvine, and an MFA in fiction from University of Miami. She works as a freelance lifestyle journalist and a trade book author. Her fourth cookbook is Ice Cube Tray Recipes (Skyhorse Publishing, June 2019). Find her on Twitter @Kavetchnik, Facebook @Kavetchnik and @JenKaretnick, and Instagram @JenKaretnick, or see jkaretnick.com.

Photo: “Ocean” by Enara Hernandez Manrique