Ruth Thompson’s most recent books are Whale Fall & Black Sage (poetry, 2019) and Quickwater Oracles (channeled meditations, 2021), which was shortlisted for a Montaigne Medal and first runner-up for the Eric Hoffer Prize. Her poems have been published in Crannog, Bosque, American Poetry Journal, Poetry Ireland Review and elsewhere. They have won awards and Pushcart nominations from the US and Ireland, and have been choreographed by dancers including Shizuno Nasu of Japan. Ruth lives in Ithaca, New York. Her website is ruththompson.net.
She is a Renoir rising from this gilded half shell, a bronzed
Van Gogh sunflower, a tree full of August apricots.
She throws the banners of her laughter into the coffered ceilings
and the castle awakens. The waiters leap to serve her.
Outside the window, a Breugel: skaters and strollers and dogs
and a sun just beginning to drop over the stitched seam of surfers.
Lights go on in the fish place on the pier, where we used to go
when she was a baby, when living in Santa Monica was cheap.
I remember the restaurant in the Trastavere, where every night
she toddled into the kitchen to visit, vivid and uninhibited as a robin.
I remember my body shaking with shock, and her crowning at last,
coming out at last, vivid and black-haired and yelling like Kali.
Now I pray to the gods of clean tablecloths, fresh slates.
My sins seat themselves around the table, waiting to be served.
I’d lie out there on the surface,
feeling the ocean gather, calm, gather, calm –
my breathing just a slow canter –
and then the build, the growing, the urgency
and I would turn,
swim hard for shore.
And I would be taken.
I would be uplifted – riding or being ridden,
arched like a dolphin, yelling.
Then it would drop me hard on the hardpack
and I would turn, too tired to run,
and crawl myself back into it, whispering
take me again, take me again, again.
One time I swam out past the waves –
not far but far enough that the water
lay almost flat under the noonhard sun –
and I dived below and turned to look up.
Above me, the surface belled out into the air,
curved like a fish eye.
Then I saw for the first time
how worlds sometimes bell into one another,
how sometimes something leaps
through the stretched surface
from the abalone-light below –
the way dolphins leap from a risen wave –
or curvet inside it, going north
nose to tail to nose to tail –
giving you that little Mona Lisa as they pass.
One day soon now I will feel it gather again
and rise beneath me. And I will wait,
this time, and turn back into it –
maybe curvetting a little as I rise –
and swim alongside them, going north.