Mercy by Katharine Whitcomb

Justin and I stole my boyfriend’s Ford wagon
   for its beach pass sticker
and drove out to swim
   every good day without him.
Nobody was ever there but us
   on the cold, ocean-side beach. Black heads of seals
wobbled in the water a safe distance
   away from where we floated
facing skyward. Clouds crashed fast as racecars. We screamed
   over the roar about books we were reading,
which Beastie Boys songs we loved—
   bet who could outlast whom. The Atlantic
sighed gigantically from deep-lunged darkness.
   We needed jobs. Saltwater stung like burning jelly,
green laudanum, rubber band snaps on the wrist.
   Back in her Provincetown apartment our friend
Mary wanted to die but we did not know it
   as we swam like fetuses in cold alien wombs,
our brains slowing, ticking backward to zero.
   We could stand our bodies cradled there
with neither love nor comfort—the sea’s harsh
   alacrity tazered fear until fear kept far from us.
Fuck the future.
   There is dumb mercy in the present moment,
before we part from each other forever,
   mercy in each minute of the senses’ deft erasure.
We treaded water, shouting blue-lipped:
   you stay here stay here I dare you.

Katharine Whitcomb is the author of four collections of poems, including The Daughter’s Almanac (University of Nebraska Press, chosen by Patricia Smith as the winner of the 2014 Backwaters Prize). She was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, and was awarded fellowships to the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown and the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing. Recent poems appear in Bennington Review, The Gettysburg Review, On the Seawall, and Green Mountains Review. She chairs the English Department at Central Washington University and lives in Ellensburg, Washington.