"Self-Portrait with Rocks and Rough Surf" by Jennifer Saunders
Self-Portrait with Rocks and Rough Surf
I could not be held responsible for desire,
only for what I did with it. I could not be held
at all. Heaven knows you tried, heaven knows
you buckled my desire around your ribs
and threw yourself into the surf.
You must have expected flotation. What you got
was me and the rocks sewn into my skirts.
Sometimes a drowning victim drags her would-be rescuer
down with her in a flash of panic and clutching hands.
Sometimes, she’ll push him under.
In school you learned a lifeguard hold,
but it only works when the body you’re trying to save
gives up on saving itself, rolls over on her back
to gaze up at the sky and rest her head on your chest.
I always was the body bobbing in the waves.
I always was the head going under.
In school you learned to alert somebody on shore
before stroking out in rescue. But sometimes
the shore is empty even of our own footprints,
those tracks you swept away behind us
as we headed for the tideline,
one of us ready to rescue,
one of us ready to drown.
* The line “I could not be held responsible for desire” is taken from “Portrait of the Alcoholic Floating in Space with Severed Umbilicus” by Kaveh Akbar.
Jennifer Saunders is currently living in German-speaking Switzerland. Her poetry and reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Dunes Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Pittsburgh Poetry Review, Spillway, The Shallow Ends, and elsewhere. Her chapbook, Self-Portrait with Housewife, was selected by Gail Wronsky as the winner of the 2017 Clockwise Chapbook Contest and will be published by Tebot Bach Press in Spring 2019. She holds an MFA from Pacific University and, in the winters, teaches skating at a hockey school.
Photo Credit: Staff