2018 Academy of American Poets Prize


by Hadley Cottingham

          I’d longed for sleep for many days, and it eluded me like the sun did the Pacific Northwest. On the third day, my mind ached so much for the absence of thought that it forced my body to flee. I arrived at an ocean lit only by the moon; I stumbled from the shore to the water in a haze somewhere between drunkenness and a dream. The water was warm, like bathwater, and as I waded in further, I felt myself begin to melt away.

          First my skin, my organs, muscles—the meat. It dissolved into water. The salty arms of the sea shaped my bones into shells and delivered them to the creatures of the shore. They bore my burdens on their backs, and they were grateful. By the time I had gone up to my neck, my body was absent, and my soul was free. The ocean—she and I—were one.
          In the night she began her dance with the moon, which pulled her in and out of motions. They said nothing, and nothing needed to be said. They danced elegantly and with a love impossible to match. The waves were gentle and yet they were strong. In the morning the sun warmed her surface and as far down within her as his light could reach. She was warm. “But what about further down, where he can’t give you his light?” I asked. “Why,” she began proudly, as the creatures living in the darkness began to glow, “I made my own.”

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