Deep Water: “Fault Map”, by WJ Herbert

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This week’s poem takes us into the realm of fossils, the subsoil, and the various afterlife of organisms on our planet. I love the careful distillation of this poem, the subtle music of its fossils, stones, and spores, and how its final turn opens up the whole poem even wider.

WJ Herbert’s debut collection of poetry, “Dear Specimen”, was chosen by Kwame Dawes as the winner of the 2020 National Poetry Series. Selected by Natasha Trethewey for inclusion in Best American Poetry 2017, her work also appears, or is forthcoming , in The Atlantic, Hudson Review, Pleiades, Southwest Review and elsewhere. She lives in Kingston, New York and Portland.

Fault map

By WJ Herbert

The mollusk by fossilizing,

seashell set in sandstone around the edge

from an old sink,

caldera, minaret, limestone

marking time from birth in a coral bed,

she envied

each one its longevity but wanted its own

open pine box on earth.

We had no plan

and suddenly it was sealed where

no insects can leave debris, no mold

grow: impossible

his shroud could be embroidered

by leaf spores and larvae, time

loosen his bones

for them to open, the umbrella gives way

to the elements, creak and sigh of displacement.

Seismologists say great,

if it hits away here, won’t

lots of damages. Twist rebar.

Tear open crypts.

Megan Grumbling is a poet and writer living in Portland. Deep Water: Maine Poems is produced in conjunction with the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. “Outage Map” copyright © 2018 by WJ Herbert. Reprinted from Greensboro Review, Vol. 104, Fall 2018 (titled: “Geologist”) with permission from WJ Herbert.


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