by Lindsay Means
Winner of the 2015 Elinor Benedict Poetry Prize
When we found the shipwreck we didn’t know
about oxidation. We knew about sponges and how,
if you break off a piece and leave it in the sand,
a new one will grow. The water was clear and blue. One of us said
that we should keep track of where we found everything.
Someone else said that if you keep track of everything
you’ll forget the important stuff anyway. We forgot our names
and the names of our children. We picked up shards
of someone else’s trash for years. Someone recalled
seeing a statue in a museum of Perseus holding the head
of Medusa. The statue of the boy on the seafloor
held out his hand like someone waiting to be pulled onto a boat.
The bust of the old man with barnacles in his eye sockets
looked like one of our grandfathers. We knew that sponges
can swim when they are young, before they settle down
and forget they are animals. We didn’t know that
the gears we pulled from the sand, encrusted
with two and a half thousand years of minerals,
could have told us the movements of the stars.
We forgot to look up. We forgot about north and south
and instead only knew above and beneath. The water
went from cool to warm to cool again, but we didn’t know
about seasons. The wood we pulled from the sand
crumbled into sand, and we forgot about trees. Someone recalled
being here before, fifty years earlier. We forgot how long
we had been underwater. We pulled glass bowls from the water
and found that we were holding fish. Someone said
once they dove too deep and saw a fish lit from within,
like it had swallowed lanterns. We couldn’t remember
if the five marble statues had been there all along.
We couldn’t remember how many of us found the shipwreck.
We wanted to ask if our skin felt cold or if our hair had rusted
but the years wheeled overhead and the stars kept their silence.
Lindsay Means holds a BA in English from Kenyon College and lives in Brooklyn, New York. This is her first published poem.