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The Marjorie E. Peale Memorial Prize

Talley Kayser
Charleston, SC

Barrier: List


Each night I stretch my muscled arc

beside a man who teems with life, whose need

reshapes me daily. Narrow islands clasp our coastline

             like a string of pearls, but the gaps between them

             seethe with teeth: waves breaking.

             How the ocean hungers.

He swells, recedes. He draws me closer,

prizing all I shed. Small secrets and odd bits of scent

churn in the space between us. Twice each day

              the rising tide gluts creeks––twice daily,

              ebbs. At low tide, rivers lengthen, run

              to tongue the sea. Rough oysters rise

              and cast damp shadows.

He wove marsh-grass from my hair. He shaped

crab-shells from my toenail clippings. Out of a bit

of my spittle flew: a great white bird

long-necked, with rowing wings. Life

              is abundant in these protected waters.

––in return, I brace my spine

against great storms.

              Barrier islands guard the coast against

              disasters. For more information, see:

              lash, pummel, batter, hammer, flay,

              pound, wreck, pelt, scour, and obliterate.

              Also: wind, wave, surge, gale, hurricane.

Such is my gift: whatever comes

I bear it. Love,

              I offer you my shelter.

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