Alexandra Haines-Stiles is a graduate of Harvard and Oxford, where she studied twentieth-century literature and language. Her work has appeared in Copper Nickel, Meridian, The Missouri Review Online, and elsewhere. She lives in New York.
2017-2018 FINALIST, COG POETRY AWARDS
Scientists, like lovers,
are always testing theories.
In the 1980s, they hauled
sharks out of the water,
force-fed them fiber optic cable.
Big fish had acquired a yen
for the lines linking us to
Europe and Japan, ocean
arteries pumping our essence
around the globe. They
smelled blood in our veins,
left loose teeth in steel skin.
We were trying to explain
the appeal of the latest technology;
the creatures wanted it so badly
they’d caused four comms
catastrophes, snapping at our
voices speeding through the deep
on laser light, our hand at
bioluminescence, glass tentacles
pulsing, trembling food-like.
In the end, we discovered sharks
feel the faintest electric fields,
our fixed wires a high-pitched
whine that never clams up.
Eerie echoes in their heads,
staccato beats vibrating the cool dark.
The kill instinct: catch your prey,
make it stop.
Air’s like water
now, so thick
and quick to spill
unearthed with each
hole you toe.
Dig and collapse,
no holding back
tides, nothing permanent.
Palm your lodestar
and it burns like a small sun,
except which way home.
(But you are your own beacon.)
The heavens are full of flares
or the fire behind your eyes
playing tricks on you –
any mirage in a storm.
One reason you can’t breathe
is you weren’t made
to live here
like some sheer-headed fish
with jelly body and an angel’s shape,
skirting the edges of worship
on ghost-white wings –
carrying all an ocean’s weight,
lost at sea.
What’s the thing water can’t fix?
What can’t it cover, cleanse or sink?
Its finite edge proves everything ends,
even the interminable. Here, I’m toeing the line
to show you where vastness meets its limit
and contracts, crawling back from the brink.
We don’t think enough about middles.
The whole mess has a halfway point
though you’ll never lay a finger on it.
Look – it’s already gone and left you in its wake.
Departures, arrivals are where love lives
and what’s between puts your nose out of joint.
Always on the go. Watch me sail off into the sunset,
wing through quilted clouds, see the water puddle
at my painted toes, the moon beckoning closer,
then waving away. Life composed of such
tidy bits, infinitesimal instants so still and calm
I might not be moving at all.
Maybe it is infinite after all. Or maybe it’s so small
it doesn’t even exist, phantom of some electric brain,
this full-bodied distance. Maybe what we feel at its verge
is the urge to enter and run, in equal measure, so we split our
differences at each threshold, unsure where or when
we’ll land: lip against lip, arms outreaching. Hoping. Praying.