BEI Fellow Readings: Melissa Tuckey

Recorded at the annual Black Earth Institute gathering: Art and Literature Lab, Madison; Oct 7th, 2017


Melissa Tuckey


Melissa Tuckey


Unable to sleep,
                the blankets wrapped in waves, waves
                as tall as dreams,
the dream world trying to make sense
                of the waking—

                strange dream of flooded rivers,
entire cities underwater. Look how the dead float,
                hair blossoming on the surface,
                and the daily hustle into streets filled with water,
                going to get bread,
going to get gasoline, and the dogs
                tied to lampposts, and the elders,
in chest high water, waiting for rescue. And always
                the water rising, and we never know
who it will take next—except that some houses
                are more sturdy than others,
and some rescues come quicker, or do not come at all.

                Remember when our beds were filled
with oil—the sea was whispering from an open door
                as that viscous dark came spilling
up and out and into every crevice of our dreams
                how many days it gushed, all over our newspapers,
                into our laundry and hair, how it covered our hands
and it wouldn’t wash out? We couldn’t sleep at night.
               And the President ate shrimp and said none of this,
though tragic, should interrupt our dinner. 
We who crawled once to these shores, having risen
               single celled from the ocean floor,
               now standing in the midst of an invented world.
Each morning, we step into our clothes,
               light the stove for breakfast, and those of us
with privilege, we gas up and go.
              We who once had no claws, no hands,
no way of grasping what we desired.
               And the waters keep seeping back in.

Look how carefully zookeepers pack up 
               those dolphins, airlifting them to safety
giving them massages to ease the stress.
               After the flooding
the houses so weak they are crumbling,
               and before the flooding also.

Elsewhere drought brings flame. 
               Fires consuming the west coast
              of our country. Easy breathing only when
the wind is blowing the other direction
              firefighters fighting to protect
              the houses as animals come screaming
from the flames. Give them water,
              foresters beg, let them recover.

A friend wants to know how to teach a writing
              workshop about trees,
when all the trees are burning, smoke so thick
              they cannot be outdoors.
Another hides in his closet, trying to read Rumi
              as the hurricane approaches.
Still another has tattooed “resist” on her arm.

Give me a dog who isn’t drowning,
              a tree not in flames.
A flag that is not betrayal.
              Let me help build an ark big enough
for everyone who needs rescue.

first published at The Quarry at Split This Rock: