“Oracle” by Robert E. Ray

Ekphrastic Challenge, August 2021: Artist’s Choice


Rosetta Stone by Emily Rankin, dolls and other items swirling in large ocean swells

Image: “Rosetta Stone” by Emily Rankin. “Oracle” was written by Robert E. Ray for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, August 2021, and selected as the Artist’s Choice.

[download: PDF / JPG]


Robert E. Ray


“We are like islands in the sea,
separate on the surface
but connected in the deep.”
―William James

We are out of our element
the earth eroded, washed under
our synthetic feet, saltwater
in our pinched nostrils, reek of sea-

life on our skin, kelp around our necks.
You disorient fish and the whale
fight swells, waves, yellow-bellied snakes
coolly in your peach silk & laced pearls.

A girl’s gold hair is a mean net
unraveled. Between bright topside
and the black bottom, creation—
Darwin’s vessel is lost and found.

From a snapped mast, Scopes’ monkey
screams and howls like North Sea gales.
It’s insufficient oxygen
to the brain, experts say. Absent shepherds

we don’t believe in arks. It is
a woman’s voice—no oracle:
Amphitrite (Poseidon’s committed
to the storm). Make a human chain!

her command, twice repeated.
We are out of our element
the schools of blue fish remind us.
Some give in to the cold water.

You make your limbs fins and pucker
like a perch, swim to the next girl
then a scared boy, another girl
a woman crying for her god.

You know the truth of the earth
harshness of the water, the air:
Save another, save yourself.
Self dispossessed—unburdened

you pull up another, countless
into the rainbow. We were told
the wrong thing in school. Do not quit
is not the same as keep going.

You swim as fast as a sailfish
as a Guadalupe puma runs—
though out of your element.
In this place, there is no helm

no bow, no stern, no starboard, no port
only the human chain underway.
We swim, we run, we fly together.
There’s no death when the spirit breathes

for another. We are reborn
we are out of our element.
Down at the bottom we link hands.

from Ekphrastic Challenge
August 2021, Artist’s Choice


Comment from the artist, Emily Rankin: “I love the structure of this poem, and its gorgeous imagery. The work is both timely and timeless, and the motion of the language is beautifully reminiscent of ocean waves.”

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