The Land Wife

by Phoebe Farrell-Sherman

Content Note: This poem depicts an abusive relationship

There’s hell at the top of the world
and it’s as bright as gold and colder
than the sea in the heart of winter.

I’ve been there, and I remember the smell
of land-beasts, the dust on everything,
washing every night before sleeping and never feeling clean.

I remember how her skin gathered sweat in the sun,
licking her arms, her cheek. 
Every meal was bread as dry and bland as gravel, and sticky animal flesh.

When I complained, her hand would make circles on my back,
and comb through my hair, 
and she’d tell me how deeply she loved me.

I stayed because I loved her too.
What hell could be worse than loving a land wife?

When we first started dating,
she asked if she could borrow my jacket, and I didn’t think much of it.
Her hair was so brown, her body so warm, 

that the white jacket looked cream-colored like foam on her.
We danced on the beach together,
my legs so new that walking felt like sinking.

Hell could be charming – for a month
I did not miss home at all.
I sang for her friends and they laughed. I learned to cook white fish 

from her father, and in the evenings, after she ate,
she would listen to my poems with her eyes closed.
She told me she wanted to know me inside and out.

Everything was so still
on land, and it pricked me and wore on me.
When I began to cry at night

she held me and I could see how it hurt her,
her eyes round with worry, begging me to love her world, 
to show her I was happy to belong to her.

I took to walking alone while she was working, 
crying a little when the sun stung my eyes.
I would go by the cliffs where the spray could touch me.

She saw me once walking into the waves,
invasive, feeling heavier than before, wanting to put my head under.
Her shouting tugged me back again, her grasp on the back of my shirt,

and I was sorry to see her cry, and so annoyed to be held as before, so still.
She said she had always known I would leave her.
I said I never wanted that, it’s what I needed to do—

She said I hope you will never need to do that again,
and my heart sank out of sight.

Suddenly every breath I took was gritty like mud, hellish.
I tasted her tears on my face. Her tears felt like my tears,
saltless, bitter. I dreaded everything in existence.

Deep in hell, it is common to think
that hell is all there is. Hell was inside me,
and I thought it could become the land wife,

but when I broke open, I found no wife, 
instead my hell slipped out,
streaming all down my face and my lungs, my legs,

pulling my jacket from a hook,
I heard her call to me from the bed,
How could you leave me after everything I learned about you?  

How could you leave me 
just because it feels bad?

I put on my jacket 
with her sweat stains in the pits.
I called up a great wave to soak that dusty place and leave it altered,

I swear, I left my mark on hell and then I swam
and swam, deep into my homeland,
and I did not look back.


© Copyright Phoebe Farrell-Sherman


Phoebe Farrell-Sherman is a poet from Seattle WA, living in Northampton MA. Some of her recent inspirations include Celtic folktales, Joni Mitchell, and the return of spring to Massachusetts.


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