Bone / Oyster / Ship

by Mag Gabbert


the day my fingers were folded into
a swinging door’s hinge
and pressed there like flowers
the way my father explained
his wife’s cancer as if it were
ice the way his voice fractured
in college my boyfriend’s father
tried to free a horse
with hooves stuck in a cattle guard
then it reared from the sparks
each leg snapped like a matchstick
and it collapsed into ashes
why does this swarm
of bees hang from a tree limb
like a chest without ribs
and why do cracked ceramics
when repaired with gold lacquer
seem to glimmer between the seams
somewhere the wings
of a resting monarch
close and open like eyelids
a fuse
is being lit
somewhere a snake
slips outside of his skin
as he slips his jaw open


in high school a boy
broke up with me because
I wasn’t giving him
enough blowjobs
in ancient Greece
the goddess Aphrodite
made people conceive
of semen foam and shellfish
as all somehow linked
my friends and I used to play
a game where we’d make
ourselves hyperventilate
we’d stand bent over
with our hands on our knees
I like the idea
of the briny sweet slip
between the shell
and the body
between vessel and spirit
I like the pleasure
of deprivation
once someone satisfies it
for example by releasing
their hand from around my neck
I once read that oysters
are shaped by their beds
they form around
whatever they attach to
it goes without saying
that I do not
enjoy giving blowjobs
and yet I do
wear a lip-gloss called “venom”
that makes my lips swell and sting
as if someone just hit me


maybe we find ships
Romantic because that word is
both a noun and a verb
I once took a trip
on a cruise with an olympic
size pool that floated flat
above the sea
then my grandmother
and I took a ferry to the shore
to look at gardens
her blood sugar dipped low
and she forgot what to call
the flowers or the city
we were in Oslo
she kept asking
are we doing the right thing
now her thoughts trail
behind me
a wake
I keep on crossing
other nouns that are verbs
sink   treat   wish
maybe I want
an out of body experience
like hers
beam   blossom
fathom   lure
even when you and I
fall asleep holding hands
I still   drift   away flotsam
on the beach
I smell the stems the floating leaves
a vase of my grandmother’s
even though it sits empty
you say it’s okay
to cut some things
away from their body
I’m at the edge
of a pier before morning
reeling and casting
I think
how often has the vessel
of this body
been filled up to its lip
    buoy   slip 
how often

Mag Gabbert holds a PhD in creative writing from Texas Tech University and an MFA from the University of California at Riverside. Her essays and poems have been published in 32 Poems, Stirring, The Rumpus, Thrush, Anomaly, Phoebe, Birmingham Poetry Review, and many other journals. Mag teaches creative writing at Southern Methodist University and for Writing Workshops Dallas; she serves as an associate editor for Iron Horse Literary Review and for Underblong Journal. For more information, please visit