Fall came slowly,
Heat hanging as the sun went down.
We dove into the ocean,
Dancing between each other,
Between the weeds and fish.
We were unaware
Of the pain
Of the bombs
Of the rubble that
Was our house, our families,
Our sense of right and wrong
And real.

Among the waves,
In the cooling waters,
We moved between what is Sunni
And what is Shi’a,
Between alive and the
Not-quite-dead that had descended.

Here in our Atlantis,
We learned the male sea horse
Carries the eggs,
Protects the next generation—
Much like you carried our pain
Deep inside
Until we could emerge
And cry, lungs drying,
As the sea horses called in the distance,
“Before us, is the killing,
But behind us, is the sea.”





Each day, he sweats through other people’s stains. Mistakes rubbed out. Pieces baptized without water, starched and coated with shiny plastic, like new. Their lives writ small, each choice explicit. Affairs revealed, professions implied, odors embedded. Grass, lipstick, vomit, pen. He longs for the man with no children who chooses to dress exquisitely, whose job is secondary and who keeps him guessing.

Tag, spot, clean, sew, iron, fold, wrap. Lines smoothed, pleats crisped, respect restored. He remembers a time before he did time and wonders when he stopped praying, stopped believing there was someone who could wipe his slate clean.



"In August 2014, I was invited to participate in a live writing as part of the Portuguese Artist Colony’s reading series. The prompt was about seahorses calling in the distance, but for several months I had been mulling a quote from a New York Times article about Syrian refugees. I thought I could explore the lives of seahorses, divisions, the need for protection, and the separate world of the sea as a way of writing about Syrian refugees. And I could paraphrase the original quote, 'Before us, is the killing, But behind us, is the sea.'

I also have written poems that profile people in overlooked professions for a number of years. Last year, around the same time that I was thinking about profiling a dry cleaner, I read a story about dry cleaner vocational trainings in some prisons. I did some more research and the result is 'The Dry Cleaner.'"

Heather Bourbeau was a Tupelo Press 30/30 poet, nominated for a 2015 Pushcart Prize, a finalist for the Randall Jarrell Poetry Prize, and winner of the Pisk! Poetry Slam. Her journalism has appeared in The Economist, The Financial Times, and Foreign Affairs. She has worked with various United Nations agencies, including the UN peacekeeping mission in Liberia and UNICEF Somalia. Her first collection of poetry, Daily Palm Castings, profiles people in overlooked professions.