Wetlands: Barataria Bay, Louisiana

Wendy Barnes


I know the leagues of you, your compass.

I know your cane breaks and milkweed, 
knots of wood duck and grackle
dotting the cattail marsh.

To return to the city of the mind, the weather-
beaten town, the bay of the mind,
its toxic islands,

to return to a birthright, even as it blurs,
disappears in cubic feet. 

I go there to trace it, I go guilty.


Say my love is a site
of battles, of winning and losing.

Say I go, but not in person,
back to what I abandoned.

Perhaps I see through satellites,
through lore, the conjurer’s smoke,
the tender web of grief.

I try to trace it, guilty,
dig through its sediments,
turn the leaves of the palimpsest.

Say it is a place, not a place,
a maw that eats itself, impossible.


A delta is made by water’s will.

It gathers its silt, its quartz, its feldspar
mud, bears its fishbone and sac au lait,
gathers its heft, its trouble and storm.

The estuary, border without border,
tide of transition, freshwater to salt, 

catfish skirt reeds in the shallows,
a gray whale’s fluke scales the horizon.

A dredger appears, its black hull
barnacled, plows upriver, muddy water roils
in its wake—

then not a dredger, a revenant galleon, fat-sailed,
climbs the river’s spine, without humility.


The cannon fire, the slow burn, far away
the cattle low, the smoke,
the anvil, the chains, a memory

runs along the banks—not mine—

of Quaker medicine, earth
medicine, cohosh, milk thistle, quartz
chips small enough to drink.

(Escape calls the bullfrog,
Run away, the whippoorwill.)

Here the salt marsh is spooned dry,
its grasses browning,
mud jeweled with blue crab claws.

Not a beach, a lip
of sand, its edges chemical-crusted,

sharp and sweet, the stink of crude in reeds.


This is how the light works, its prisms,
regret, its hot breath. The ways

I left, the ways of others’ leaving.

Here are the battles. I will say
the ways we have lost.

I will say I am brackish,
the color of sand.    

Tidebound love, my love-in-water,
I look to the receding shore.

There was the life we squandered, the soil.


Wendy Barnes’ poems have appeared in publications like Spiral Orb, Painted Bride Quarterly and Slice. Her chapbook, So-Called Mettle, was published in 2012 by Finishing Line Press.

Issue 14

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