The Block Island Times

Poem: That Which There Are No Words For

By Jen Lighty | Sep 04, 2013

Ed. Note: Due to an editing error, only half of Jen Lighty’s poem was printed in last week’s edition. We’re pleased to present the entire poem here.

That Which There Are No Words For

By Jen Lighty

In memoriam, Sandy Hook, Dec. 14, 2012

All afternoon on the oyster farm

a great egret watched me work

hoisting bags of oysters

out of the shallow water

onto the dock to sort.


It was dark of the moon, tide lower

than I’d ever seen it, exposing rocks,

a pile of culch I’d dumped at the edge of the marsh,

mud speckled with dead slipper shells,

crabs that could be hibernating.


Oysters, sealed tight, holding

their mouthful of saltwater in deep cups

polished smooth inside by flesh,

passed through my gloved fingers,

sorting for market.


I wasn’t thinking about thresholds,

how often we cross without knowing,

doors opening and closing

without a creak or click as the latch catches

and we wonder what side we are on now.


My body had taken over: bend, hoist,

dump, sort, back into the old bag

to grow another winter underwater,

or into a wider mesh

strung on a line close to shore for market.


I broke apart the fused ones,

pulled the beards off mussels

and tossed them overboard,

rescued small crabs who clung or froze,

imagining then I couldn’t see them.



Minnows thrashed in my palms,

a surge of pure light and muscle.

When I released them back to the muddy water

through my cold fingers

joy flashed like quicksilver.


I wasn’t thinking about thresholds,

I was on my hands and knees

pushing oyster bags through six inches of water,

sucked down when I tried to stand,

forced to crawl, cursing and laughing


as the egret, who had not moved in hours,

took a few elegant steps, rippling the calm.


Sitting up, kneeling in my waders,

waist-deep in mud,

I closed my eyes,

not because I knew what was coming,

but to see in the dark as well.


The white feathers of the egret so fine and smooth.

The marsh, golden in mid-December.


It was the day before our darkness made itself known,

that which we’d say about after,

There were no words for.

Crow call in the east answered by one at my back,

Prepare to be emptied.


The death of innocence is one way to learn

how to love. In the dark, I pray for another,

pure as white feathers, a breath

passing with ease through my body,

turned to the low sun moving across the marsh.

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