“F Is for Fear” by Heidi Seaborn

Heidi Seaborn


And it is raining. Someone left an upright piano
beside a steep road. Its case exposed like a throat.
Clouds of data my mother says, concerned that
data is consuming the blue of the sky. I try to
explain, but then decide she’s right in a way—the
fear of extinguishing air, a snuff film on loop. I
get it, imagining the Titanic tourist submersible
holding a shrinking supply of breathable air adrift
in the Atlantic’s depths. The five inside, inhaling
just enough oxygen. Does opera music play?
King Charles sends thoughts and prayers. I see
Leo and Kate in the midnight blue of Titanic,
motionless, breath clouding their frosted lips.
Neptune welcomed sacrifice. To recover the
OceanGate sub is a complex mission: the depth,
pressure of descending 8,000 meters. It must be
quiet there, in the ocean’s gullet. It isn’t the actual
rape that I can’t forget after decades, it’s the
strangulation. And I’ve wondered if in a past life,
that’s how I’d died. Maybe in all of them. Dying,
unable to breathe, piano wire tightening into a
vise around my throat. Gustav Holst’s Neptune’s
wordless chorus of women, an operatic ending.
X on a map of the ocean floor. XOs of data
yoking the sky. Somewhere a sub in the Midnight
Zone. The breathing slows to a pianissimo coda.

from Poets Respond
June 25, 2023


Heidi Seaborn: “This afternoon I saw a discarded upright piano missing its front panel in the rain, which brought on feelings of exposure and vulnerability, triggering thoughts of fears, my mother’s and my own greatest fear—of being unable to breathe. I’d been thinking about the five people trapped in a submersible at the bottom of the Atlantic, their oxygen dwindling. I chose to write the poem in a constrictive form—a left/right justified abecedarian. It’s a throat, a submersible, a dark cloud, an upright piano on the page. And it’s a straight jacket to write in, each word carefully chosen, as I imagine the inhabitants of the submersible rationing their words, their breath.” (web)

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