The bleached wood massed in bone piles,   
we pulled it from dark beach and built   
fire in a fenced clearing.
The posts’ blunt stubs sank down,
they circled and were roofed by milled   
lumber dragged at one time to the coast.   
We slept there.

Each morning the minus tide—
weeds flowed it like hair swimming.   
The starfish gripped rock, pastel,   
rough. Fish bones lay in sun.

Each noon the milk fog sank
from cloud cover, came in   
our clothes and held them   
tighter on us. Sea stacks   
stood and disappeared.
They came back when the sun
scrubbed out the inlet.

We went down to piles to get
mussels, I made my shirt
a bowl of mussel stones, carted
them to our grate where they smoked apart.   
I pulled the mussel lip bodies out,
chewed their squeak.
We went up the path for fresh water, berries.   
Hardly speaking, thinking.

During low tide we crossed   
to the island, climbed
its wet summit. The redfoots   
and pelicans dropped for fish.   
Oclets so silent fell
toward water with linked feet.

Jacynthe said little.
Long since we had spoken Nova Scotia,
Michigan, and knew beauty in saying nothing.   
She told me about her mother
who would come at them with bread knives then   
stop herself, her face emptied.

I told her about me,
never lied. At night
at times the moon floated.   
We sat with arms tight   
watching flames spit, snap.   
On stone and sand picking up
wood shaped like a body, like a gull.

I ran barefoot not only
on beach but harsh gravels   
up through the woods.
I shit easy, covered my dropping.   
Some nights, no fires, we watched
sea pucker and get stabbed   
by the beacon
circling on Tatoosh.


I stripped and spread
on the sea lip, stretched   
to the slap of the foam   
and the vast red dulce.   
Jacynthe gripped the earth   
in her fists, opened—
the boil of the tide   
shuffled into her.

The beach revolved,
headlands behind us
put their pines in the sun.
Gulls turned a strong sky.
Their pained wings held,
they bit water quick, lifted.   
Their looping eyes continually   
measure the distance from us,   
bare women who do not touch.

Rocks drowsed, holes
filled with suds from a distance.
A deep laugh bounced in my flesh   
and sprayed her.


Flies crawled us,
Jacynthe crawled.
With her palms she
spread my calves, she
moved my heels from each other.   
A woman’s mouth is
not different, sand moved
wild beneath me, her long
hair wiped my legs, with women   
there is sucking, the water
slops our bodies. We come
clean, our clits beat like
twins to the loons rising up.

We are awake.
Snails sprinkle our gulps.   
Fish die in our grips, there is   
sand in the anus of dancing.   
Tatoosh Island
hardens in the distance.
We see its empty stones   
sticking out of the sea again.   
Jacynthe holds tinder
under fire to cook the night’s wood.

If we had men I would make   
milk in me simply. She is   
quiet. I like that you
cover your teeth.

Carolyn Forché, “Kalaloch” from Gathering the Tribes. Copyright © 1976 by Carolyn Forché. Reprinted with the permission of Yale University Press,
Source: Gathering the Tribes (Yale University Press, 1976)
More Poems by Carolyn Forché