Subject and Object

On “Sueño No. 5: Botella del mar,” a photograph by Grete Stern (1950)

The woman sits clutching her knees
inside a short-necked bottle on a beach,
looks up smiling at a mouth above
all imagined itineraries.
We like to think she volunteered
to be lowered into the bottle.
On her own idea, even
her own craftiness, lured into being
enrobed with the thick glass that is the gray-blue
of a ukiyo-e sky of flying cranes
who breathe the steam
of that bluish gray ideation and
end of autumn, or a plume of smoke
from a train in the middle distance.

Swells of warm seawater push wet sand against
spun tips of seashells that sit on the warmed strand
like nobility on a plush settee.
The bottle’s bottom edge lists in the hot
sand, the heat of the morning sunlight penetrates
the bottle walls, and foam and breeze coax
a juddering creature from underneath.
From inside the woman argues with herself that
the horizon is another of the world’s ambitions.

Those ships slipped into bottles
with volition and self-responsibility,
acquiesce so marvelously,
like the glass fitting
so smoothly around her. She is a person
born to be put into this and admired as perfection
from the outside, which is how we love flowers
and dreams, though our desires may suffocate them.