Eighteen

by Sue Goyette



Some believed the ocean wasn’t alway salty but that our ancestors
had been very sad. They’d been promised a great many things

only to have the fruit drop and their breasts sag. They cried
a lot. When they looked up and bemoaned their fate,

claiming they’d done nothing to deserve all of this roadkill,
the exhaust from their undeservedness formed a talk show

of rain clouds. When they looked upon the ground
and beseeched their feral happiness to stop chewing

at their feet, their displeasure seeded gout weed and prehistoric
thorned things. In this way, our boats were the original forms

of escape and self-help. At first we floated on our ancestors’ sadness,
the waters rife with the salt of their tears, but then,

vivre l’evolution, those tears sprouted gills and tails
and small, watchful eyes. It isn’t entirely accurate to say

we ate those fish but more like accepted that which we’d inherited.
What we hadn’t anticipated was how the eyes of those original tears

would persist, how they’d keep watching.

Notes on the Poem

Poem "Eighteen" in Sue Goyette's Ocean is quite the lachrymose wave of, well, lachrymose waves. How, then, does she manage to make such a tide of tears sound so jaunty and even like there should be reason to be hopeful? Seeds of doubt about the sadness of "our ancestors" are sown from the outset. "Some believed" they'd "been very sad", which suggests some did not believe that. That they were sad because "[t]hey'd been promised a great many things" is, well, sad, but might suggest they were kind of complacent, waiting for things to be handed to them. For example, rather than letting the "fruit drop", why weren't they out harvesting it? When we reach the delightful phrase "a talk show / of rain clouds" - don't you think those unhappy ancestors are being mocked, maybe ever so gently? When they continue to be dismayed, even when "feral happiness" is nipping at their heels, don't they seem to be perversely and unnecessarily wallowing in grief? When their tears evolve into sources of sustenance and livelihood, it still seems the ancestors are reluctant to celebrate this bounty, with the passive observation: "more like accepted that which we'd inherited" Is the seeming continued sadness because of ... "how the eyes of those original tears would persist, how they'd keep watching." Are those eyes a vestige of a truly sad past, or is the watchfulness something in which to take comfort?

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