My heart started hurting in September
but the doctors were busy
As a child I played in construction sites
housing developments in Florida–sinkholes
quicksand–each step always on the verge of being
pulled under reaching out for a hand
They swallowed up swimming pools
carports a sinkhole swallows a house:
a sinkhole swallows a house family missing:
a sinkhole swallows a man:
a sinkhole swallows a man in bed:
swallows a man in a pool: a front yard
a bathroom a Chevrolet dealership a hotel
near Disney two houses in Land O Lakes
a boat a sinkhole opens inside the National
Corvette Museum I lived near Winter Park
Florida when a sinkhole 350 feet wide
75 feet deep opened up in 1981 swallowing
part of a Porsche dealership businesses
a home community swimming pool
on Fairbanks—it was at the periphery
of my vision as I was busy I was working
as a cocktail waitress I was having
a baby I was giving birth in Winter Park
I was giving my son away a sinkhole
just something to drive around the ground
opening up It could happen any time you
just had to be ready the smell a marsh gone
underground karst mud tacky
panther blond spots–hard to relax
at night sleep thinking of the man
whose bed was swallowed with him
in it thinking when did he wake up
did he wake up
Do your doors or windows not close
properly does your backyard
smell like a thousand-year-old horse a sharp
unguent a ligature that is not
music isthmus of the thyroid
a necrotic smell but no body iron
sulphur it is the underworld few
seem to fall in it’s almost always a mouth
People with Bridges on Them
after Wislawa Szymborksa’s “The People on the Bridge”
Even my absence has a name.
You’re trying to fasten the cape
on me a hooded cloak, but that’s not it,
the secret outer garment.
Time stopped there too.
And on the page where you try to deny
I’m reading Szymborska upside down,
drinking twig tea, the sticks a wet fire.
Maybe you’re keeping us there
intact, by keeping it hidden
by why are you the one reading
and I’m the one gone?
My absence at the table
feels your hands on the inside
of my arms, the table like a tree between us
reaching both ways.
When I saw the people with bridges on them,
you looked up as if seeing me
for the first time, forgetting who I was
from moment to moment.
The room was in an old house
that was like a ship,
and so the floor slanted,
floated, the blue door,
the bed, but mostly the table
where we sat reading.
Across the table you read Syzmborska
right side up
and attributed my mis-reading
to a friend of yours, though first
you made me into an initial,
though not any initial in my name,
I think I was N. as in nothing November night
notwithstanding, and then you erased me
completely in love with disguise.
After reading Szymborska upside down,
I couldn’t remember the poem right side up,
the people bowed over with bridges
on their backs, and after so many years
their bodies took on the shape of bridges.
Kelle Groom is the author of four poetry collections, Underwater City (University Press of Florida), Luckily, Five Kingdoms, and Spill (Anhinga Press), and a memoir, I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl (Simon & Schuster), a B&N Discover selection and New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice. An NEA Fellow and Massachusetts Cultural Council Fellow, Groom’s work appears in AGNI, American Poetry Review, Best American Poetry, The New Yorker, New York Times, Ploughshares, and Poetry. She is a nonfiction editor at AGNI. Groom’s memoir-in-essays, How to Live, will be published by Tupelo Press in October 2023.