Two Poems

Poetry / Anne Barngrover

:: Ceres in the Red Tide ::

The ocean retches and collects. We have mistaken you, our water 
          god, for a savior of fallow pastures, your ruling

          planet for a fixed star. A message blinks through the ether:
Let’s work on improving this together. But it’s too late 

for prayers when salt animals distend heavy
          as sodden paperbacks, toxic script penned on every folio.

          They cannot hide in their septic shells,
and you cannot return the light 

energy you harnessed from the sun. Don’t you remember? I tried to run
          from you with hooves and quick reacting

          tendons—I transformed myself into a mare.
Neptune, brother, you would not rest until you overpowered

everything that needed blue to breathe. 
          You plunged your own house into the Great Dark.

          You sealed our throats with rocks. Haven’t you always 
proved the impossible equation, never seen 

with the naked eye, discovered only through ancient math?
          I could not escape from you by horse 

          or will or sheath of grain. The ocean remembers. 
The planets remember. My body remembers everything you’ve done.


:: Ceres in the Global Heat Wave ::

Have you ever tried to sleep 
          as winds thrash a lofted room

          the way a god of evil flogs 
a wooden ship at sea? You feel 

very small. If it weren’t 
          for cliff gusts and morning 

          fog, we’d perish like snails 
do on this dark and dry land.

They’ve been trying to live 
          since the era when islands

          weren’t yet islands but a part
of seedlings’ collective dream, 

white and spiral. I am not 
          from any country or generation. 

          This doesn’t take place anywhere 
in particular, except for now 

maps look like they’re screaming. Too hot 
          for ruins. Too hot for roads. 

          Fake popcorn flowers 
on real cobs. Butter’s gloss undermines 

the ruse, as if we required hyperbole 
          to prove what went wrong. 

          I’m rubbing the apocalypse 
in your face, I guess, since I don’t get 

to be moody otherwise. If men are mad 
          at me, they hurt me or they leave

          with the blue stoneware
of my heart, and I never uncover it again.

Tonight, I’m the hottest I’ve ever been. 
          I figure if that star 

          doesn’t move by the next time
I look up at the sky, it must be real. 

Art needs an artist, words need a writer,
          and stars need to be believed,

          but what can I say about faith 
when I’ve given the last of my warnings?

          I loved you in the marginal
seas and those not defined 

by currents. I loved you with salt 
          on my lips and in small sounds 

          too numerous to list aloud. 
I’ve been trying to live

since the era of your silence, which fills
          with trapped air like a gasp

          that goes on and on, and I’ll never
be emotionally detached for you

to take me seriously. I can’t save
          every slug on ash and asphalt,

          but I’ll touch their dank bodies 
with hands not clean enough to hold. 

Too hot tonight for rain. Too hot for eyes 
          to close. I lie awake all night 

          listening as you take the world 
from me—little by little, then all at once.


From the writer

:: Account ::

These poems speak in the voice of the Roman god­dess Ceres—whose Greek coun­ter­part is Deme­ter, moth­er of the fate­ful Persephone—the ruler of agri­cul­ture, women and girls, fer­til­i­ty, and, ran­dom­ly, cere­al grains. I became com­pelled by the myths of Ceres because I have been think­ing a lot about the rela­tion­ship between the way that our plan­et is being treat­ed and the way that vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple, espe­cial­ly women, are being treat­ed in tan­dem. This “Ceres series” imag­ines: What if this time­less god­dess were plopped down in 2019, what would she be think­ing? After all, in their sto­ries, god­dess­es nev­er escape the vio­lence and pain of the world them­selves. Ceres’s feel­ings of betray­al, rage, des­per­a­tion, and grief, often caused by those she loves, as well as her insis­tence on truth-telling and resilience, are famil­iar nav­i­ga­tions for me. Par­tial­ly, this is because I live in Flori­da, a beau­ti­ful, oth­er­world­ly place rife with the hor­rors of poi­so­nous algae, dis­ap­pear­ing species and coast­lines, increas­ing­ly unbear­able heat, and some of the high­est reports of cyber attacks and fraud in the coun­try. I ask the unan­swer­able ques­tion in these poems: Can we save our­selves from the hell we have cre­at­ed, or have we already gone too far?


Anne Barn­grover’s most recent book of poems, Brazen Crea­ture, was pub­lished with Uni­ver­si­ty of Akron Press in 2018 and is a final­ist for the 2019 Ohioana Book Award in Poet­ry. Cur­rent­ly she is an assis­tant pro­fes­sor of Eng­lish and Cre­ative Writ­ing at Saint Leo Uni­ver­si­ty, where she is on fac­ul­ty in the Low-Res­i­den­cy MA pro­gram in Cre­ative Writ­ing. She lives in Tam­pa, Flori­da, and you can find her online at