MARE PETROLEUM by James Reidel

Mare Petroleum


Wading out to the bar because I drove here—

The undertow’s nothing,

A cat’s cradle around your ankles.

You just have to kick off with your toes in the trough,

Kick off the last of your clothes,

The little gasp of elastic from its waistband.

Then the sand begins its long, low pitch.

And you look like you’re flying or dead to the birds if there
        are birds,

Your arms rising on the cool, faintly kerosene waves.

Each feels wrapped around rolling, slick shoulders,

Two great dogs guiding me and anyone crazy enough to

From now on they will never leave our sides,

These dogs.

We’re going deeper, to the bar,

And they lick my ears like it is nothing,

Like the water’s fine.



I know the Gulf best from Sanibel and Captiva. I now worry about the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge, the shelling beaches, the incredible sunsets, where you can see why we would want to worship such an object immersed in the sea. To me that is the “fruit of the Gulf,” not what the pendulous mouth says it is in those Crab Shack spots on the radio out of Ft. Myers. But any horizon will do for me, and it does for so many others, and that is why the rigs are put so far out to sea using a technology as reliable as wire and rubber bands (a source of power for children, as you know). That is what infuriates me, but the poem is not an angry one. It is actually something I like to do when I get to the shore, any shore, after getting out of a hot car, something that gives me pleasure, that gives anyone pleasure I would think. It can be the Gulf, it can be the Jersey Shore. And as wonderful as this is, I have to know I am a kind of pollution, punishment, one deserving one in kind, to have my nose and maybe more rubbed in what I have done, we have done individually, exponentially. The poem is another kind of protest, indirect, as though one were falling in a dream—hence the title, which is intended to make one think of those seas on the moon—a protest against accepting how it’s going to be from now on, to get use to it, to start eating the fish again, go to the shore, stick a beach umbrella in the sand and not see that everything attached to it (focus on your hands) is a straw sucking the planet out as though we were just unthinking chemistry, breaking it down with all the virtue of a mild acid enzyme, a heat death, particles in an entropy far too big for us to comprehend. And yet we have all the power to know better. When are we going to drill for it?


James Reidel’s most recent book of poems is My Window Seat for Arlena Twigg and other Poems (Black Lawrence Press, 2006). He is the author of Vanished Act: The Life and Art of Weldon Kees (University of Nebraska Press, 2003). His other work includes In Hora Mortis/Under the Iron of the Moon (Princeton University Press, 2007), translations of two books of verse by the Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard. He is the editor of Love Is like Park Avenue, the fiction of Alvin Levin (New Directions, 2009). He is also the translator of Pale Blue Ink in a Lady’s Hand, a novel by Franz Werfel, for which he received an NEA grant, and a revised and expanded edition of Werfel’s The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, both to be published by Godine in late 2010.

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