Reading by the author

evolución inversa: volvemos al mar.
—Raquel Salas Rivera

Meanwhile, wondering what I can say back.
We understand behind the lagoon are mangroves.
Insisting tsunami never happens, whispers.
Inaudibly, maybe the voice of several oceans.

A storm petrel pokes at kelp along the sandbar.
You feel the tide receding by its absence.
God, I wanted to hold and be held here.
Grind wet sand through a closed fist.

How good it is to know, to be known.
The susurrus reaching out like friendship.
Without pretense or carapace.

The fruit bats are nesting in a papaya tree.
The papaya are underripe lately.
One of them shrieks with delight.

Poet’s Note

This poem occurs between two people on a beach where a tsunami's floodwaters have struck. We dwell, however, in the realm of the surreal and the uncertain. It's not clear whether the text omits another speaker's dialogue or whether the text is even spoken at all. Still, a kind of communion emerges, even as the line depicts trauma that fragments thought, grief that stifles linguistic expression. Kills imagination.

In my mind, the location is the Arop-Sissano lagoon on the coast of Papua New Guinea's Sandaun Province, where a tsunami killed thousands of people and displaced ten thousand more on July 17, 1998. As visceral as the scene is, though, it arrives detached and dislocated. They might as well be anywhere.

Consuming geography, body, and mind, saltwater becomes the sole reminder of what has already transpired. Still, Frost wrote "It must be I want life to go on living," and here at least the trees show signs of living. I like to believe in a world where it's the papaya that shriek with delight.

That they could.