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Ekphrasis of "Untitled (1969)," a painting by Mark Rothko

Whale Bone in the Middle of My Body


Marina Leigh

My mother calls me
home with the setting sun,
but I am on the inside
of a swimming pool. Everywhere
I look — blue blue blue.
Chlorine fills my nose, stings
my eyes, salt at the back
of my throat. The swallow
of ocean tossing my lungs
like sea glass. Sea birds braid
orange poppies into my hair.
Sandpiper beaks a scalpel
to my middle — cut me open —
this is what I look like on the inside:

A snowglobe in the Chicago airport, just shaken
A crushed fortune cookie at the bottom of the takeout bag, lucky numbers 4 17 ———
Pieces of a ceramic plate shattered in the kitchen sink — a palmful of mosaic
The pretty side of an abalone shell
A Rothko painting — any of them, pick one

I can hold my breath for 67 seconds
because once, I found a whale bone
on a beach in California, sunbleached
& warm to my chest, my sternum
turned whale bone with the morning.
With the summer, I turned wild, I let
saltwater river through the gaps where
my front teeth should be. I crouched
barefoot on the rocks at low tide, algae
between my toes, to poke my fingers
into the middles of purple sea urchins
to watch them furrow. The ocean & I
asked nothing of one another except
to stay, & I didn’t hold up my end
of the bargain. I abandoned her for
the middle of a country. For an in-
ground swimming pool. The whale
bone of me polished against sand.
Turn me toward the sun. Hold me here
at the bottom.

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Marina Leigh is a queer, biracial writer and photographer born and raised in Reno, Nevada. She earned her MFA in poetry as the Grisham Fellow at the University of Mississippi. Her work has been published in several journals, and she is the author of a poetry chapbook titled Wild Daughter.

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