Leaving Sea World

A Poem by Karen Kelsay

Jacques Cousteau would have loved
our living room, where Dad displayed his creepy
collection of sea creatures inside the dark
paneled den. In this grotto-shrine

there were no pictures of daughters
in frilly dresses on the mantle—only a looming
photo of an eel sliding from its cove,
with a sheepshead and giant grouper

making their debut over the sofa. By the door
a parrot and dolphin fish were hung.
Our coffee table had cork legs with crushed
abalone embedded in the surface

and a glass lamp above it, with a shade
made from boat canvas. Hammerhead
shark\’s teeth and sand dollars were wedged
between diving books on the shelves.

At age three Dad put a wetsuit on me.
Each summer I joined a swim team, snorkeled
and scuba dived. He helped make my surfboard
and cheered me on when I caught a wave.

One July I noticed bikinis looked more
appealing than a one piece— that I liked eating ice cream
better than having a salt water-itch and sandy scalp.
I gave up diving gear and tackle boxes,

decided fish have a disgusting feel to them and that freaky
things lived in coral reefs. I realized jellyfish could sting,
sharks were ugly, wetsuits were uncomfortable
and people could run out of air using tanks.

I bought myself a little ruffled sundress and stretched
out in a chair by the pool. I slathered Coppertone
on my legs and put lemon in my hair. I stopped praying
I would grow fins and that my photo
would be hung on the wall.

Autumn Ambivalence

A Poem by Karen Kelsay

We sit near the stream edge, under the pine’s
brittle fingers. Our collective breath
drapes between low branches

like a foggy sheet across autumn’s arms.
You spot a black bear in the distance;
I marvel how a sky so blue

can be so cold. Daylight has become
brief, the valley blurred into a ribbon
of frayed leaves. At dusk I see

Denali’s shadow from my balcony,
moose eat fuchsias by the backyard deck.
Stalks of rhubarb twist

and bend to earth, breathing
a chilly sigh. No matter how many
winters I greet, this place

will always seem foreign to me.
Everything lies exhausted, the beauty
too vast, God too near.

In a Hat Box

A Poem by Karen Kelsay

When I wake at three in the morning with stars
sprinkled between my curtains, and see
my old hat box wedged on the corner shelf
beneath scalloped shadows, I remember

its contents of unused wool from a needlepoint
canvas, colored pencils and the camera
with a broken lens. I recall a length of ribbon
too dark for my hair, business cards

that no longer matter, a plastic harmonica
from an amusement hall and an old monogrammed
handkerchief wrapped around a black and white
picture of you, leaning against a palm tree.

Back then, you were a transplanted Nebraskan
collecting San Diego summers in your pockets,
exploring tide pools and sailboats. Each Saturday
you rode the bus to Hotel Del Coronado

where big band music filled the Victorian ball room.
One night, you posed on the lawn in pearls and heels,
beneath a sand dollar moon embedded above the bay.
That was before you married dad and took trips

to Bermuda and Europe. Before mundane chores,
diapers, three children, bike rides and sewing classes.
Before trading the eucalyptus hills of Balboa Park
for an inland home in Orange County

and black lab who shed on your carpet.
Before illness.
When a slice of moon could sneak across
the Pacific and still glint in your eyes.