Eureka, California

What were we looking for
in that inn where Dad dragged us,
that antique room belonging to long-faced
loggers and their grim wives,
necks tucked away by ruffles

in that room with maroon velvet chairs
engraved by cigarette burns,
warm relics from strangers whose feet
were touched by our feet, where suitcases
lie bloated by the sofa like dead whales.

Was it the rocks beneath our backs
who like sleeping fairy tale monsters
threaten to wake with our waking,
or was it Mom stretched out on the sand like half
of a stranded octopus, eyes opening to say
I dreamed I was floating on the Caspian,

or was it the shells my brother and I hunted
beneath rocks and seaweed bulbs,
fingers hungry for the mussels’ hard-ribbed skin
the dark kisses of anemones.

We found mirages of tide pools, but even
the wettest rocks were bare.

The next morning our suitcases
lie open-mouthed and full.
Mom finds shells in her pockets, while Dad
takes a salt bath in the tub.

Was it the seagull that Dad found
half-sunk in a small hill of sand,
the way he said, Don’t wake it, smiling
by the water, spreading his arms out to float
backwards from the shore, looking at the sky
and saying, how beautiful, how beautiful.

My brother and I traced the small
twist of its neck with our fingers
as Mom closed her eyes.

On the way home, Dad talks
about the sea, about building
a house of redwood trees in
Eureka, a tribute to persistence
as Mom listens to the shell
she’s holding to her ear.

Sitting in the back
we don’t tell them about
the one black eye
still staring from the sand.

About the author

Dena Afrasiabi has recently watched the sun set between two continents in Istanbul, Turkey and visited a medieval Swedish prison that was once home…

Read the full bio

Issue 17 · March 2013

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