elliott holt

Writer
My first novel YOU ARE ONE OF THEM was published by The Penguin Press in 2013. My writing has also appeared in the New York Times, Virginia Quarterly Review, Guernica, The Millions, and the 2011 Pushcart Prize anthology. elliottholt.com
  • March 31, 2012 1:39 pm

    My April Poem

    The poem I’ll be reading every day in April is "Diving into the Wreck" by Adrienne Rich, who died last week at the age of 82.

    First having read the book of myths,
    and loaded the camera,
    and checked the edge of the knife-blade,
    I put on
    the body-armor of black rubber
    the absurd flippers
    the grave and awkward mask.
    I am having to do this
    not like Cousteau with his
    assiduous team
    aboard the sun-flooded schooner
    but here alone.
    
    There is a ladder.
    The ladder is always there
    hanging innocently
    close to the side of the schooner.
    We know what it is for,
    we who have used it.
    Otherwise
    it is a piece of maritime floss
    some sundry equipment.
    
    I go down.
    Rung after rung and still
    the oxygen immerses me
    the blue light
    the clear atoms
    of our human air.
    I go down.
    My flippers cripple me,
    I crawl like an insect down the ladder
    and there is no one
    to tell me when the ocean
    will begin.
    
    First the air is blue and then
    it is bluer and then green and then
    black I am blacking out and yet
    my mask is powerful
    it pumps my blood with power
    the sea is another story
    the sea is not a question of power
    I have to learn alone
    to turn my body without force
    in the deep element.
    
    And now: it is easy to forget
    what I came for
    among so many who have always
    lived here
    swaying their crenellated fans
    between the reefs
    and besides
    you breathe differently down here.
    
    I came to explore the wreck.
    The words are purposes.
    The words are maps.
    I came to see the damage that was done
    and the treasures that prevail.
    I stroke the beam of my lamp
    slowly along the flank
    of something more permanent
    than fish or weed
    
    the thing I came for:
    the wreck and not the story of the wreck
    the thing itself and not the myth
    the drowned face always staring
    toward the sun
    the evidence of damage
    worn by salt and sway into this threadbare beauty
    the ribs of the disaster
    curving their assertion
    among the tentative haunters.
    
    This is the place.
    And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair
    streams black, the merman in his armored body.
    We circle silently
    about the wreck
    we dive into the hold.
    I am she: I am he
    
    whose drowned face sleeps with open eyes
    whose breasts still bear the stress
    whose silver, copper, vermeil cargo lies
    obscurely inside barrels
    half-wedged and left to rot
    we are the half-destroyed instruments
    that once held to a course
    the water-eaten log
    the fouled compass
    
    We are, I am, you are
    by cowardice or courage
    the one who find our way
    back to this scene
    carrying a knife, a camera
    a book of myths
    in which
    our names do not appear.