"Manatee" by Catherine Martin

Catherine Martin

Catherine Martin

Catherine Martin is currently a grad student in Emerson College’s Publishing and Writing MA program. She has a BA in English and Spanish from Smith College. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Nimrod and Else Where magazines. Catherine grew up in Athens, Georgia, but has spent the past five years in Massachusetts. She regularly returns to the South, but is building a career in publishing in Boston. 


on first sight, it was a sentient, upside-down boogie board
pushing its small journey through the Gulf of Mexico.
there are a few moments in your life
you will see something you have never seen before
and feel totally safe. one of those moments
will be a manatee in the wild.

for a moment together
we were a miniature-scale blimp and Statue of Liberty
one dancing slowly toward the other.

its skin was not a zoo’s smiling gray—
it was black as basketball courts that wield the most
punishing love.

when I touched it, I could not feel it breathe.
tiny, rusted canyons wrinkled its back.
it was so rough it turned me four years old again,
touching the rivers cracking through my mother’s feet
as she lay in bed talking on the phone.

the water we swam in was pale and murmuring
but the manatee was dark and clear as stained glass.
can you love stained glass when you are grown
the same way you loved it as a child?
that is, can you put the same sun your parents labored under
over your own head without always
putting it behind every window you look through?

I may die without touching a manatee again
but it won’t matter as long as I allow my feet
to become landscapes, and my fingers
memorize the ridges and rivers I walk on.