Midden by Paul Otremba


It could be worn stone, where water or wind
had visited, leaving behind scalloped bowls.
Perhaps the upturned curve of scapula
or cracked pelvis. Vast quantities of oysters,
a cheap and common food, were consumed
at the settlements. Could mean years.
Could mean hordes. The ice formed, then weakened.
He had gone past the point on the horizon,
then crossed back. It was a thin layer that year.
Roman tiles, an iron disk, fragments
of charred bone. She walked along the shore
collecting oyster shells, the hardened lips
of what had been loosened of their songs.
Which side meant sky? Which meant sea?
Perhaps it was a trade, a bargain not fully realized,
like the arrowhead accepted by the flesh.
Hands bound because the gods love talking
but not talking back. In the metaphor, the body
digs a cellar, stocks provisions for a siege
or hard winter. Then the waters opened
and took the ship whole. The waiter spoke
like you would to an accomplice—
what you’re tasting is the sea.


This poem was a runner up for the 2018 RHINO Founders' Prize.

PAUL OTREMBA is the author of two poetry collections, Pax Americana (Four Way Books, 2015) and The Currency (Four Way Books, 2009). He teaches at Rice University and in the low-residency MFA program at Warren Wilson College.