The Bay by Jennifer Atkinson

(Helen Frankenthaler, 1963)
Never not liquid its deep blues
map an alter-Atlantic, an unseen idea

of bay as unlike the actual
body of water as water is like a body.

When the teacher pulled down
her scrolled-up map of the world, no one

mistook its blue wash for land or the pale
yellows and greens—our own state

pink—for the sea. By six, we’d learned
oceans are blue though we knew

in our bodies (we lived by the bay)
the ocean’s surface sheen is closer to silver

than sky and inside the waves the water
roils with browns and muddled greens.

A dizzy pummeling otherworld.
This painted bay might be a sea undizzied:

a translation of a translation of turbulence.
Five thousand miles of wind and unbounded

main arrested and framed as a square—
six by six—something the size of something

knowable, even known. Except The Bay isn’t
the bay. It barely references the sea. Its effect

Is its subject, is more like the lulling
roll of waves out beyond the surf,

your body afloat, loose, looking up,
calm in the vastness, dreaming. The bay

is disappearing inward: wash by wash, brushed on
or poured, nine liquitex blues override

the visible to sound the depths of the felt.


Jennifer Atkinson is the author of five books of poetry. The most recent one, The Thinking Eye, was published by ParlorPress/Free Verse Editions in 2016. Individual poems have appeared in journals including Field, Image, Witness, Poecology, Terrain, The Missouri Review, and Cincinnati Review. She teaches in the MFA and BFA programs at George Mason University in Virginia.