five poems by Elizabeth Kate Switaj


How many taxis does she have to ride
with women in sandals & men in basketball
jerseys from five trades ago

before she stops taking the swell
of oceanside wind through palms & pandanus
for rain and running

outside to upturn her face
only to find
but Venus edging closer to the moon

half-hidden half the time
by clouds half-emptied over breakers

   and humid dust sculpting her face

we see how she ages

every time she rides

no coconut will save
but the night she says yes

(won’t either)


mildew rises like the dead
from flooded white
marked graves—stones
and crosses

doilied with slivered

the zombie scent
—revenant of wet—

wafts in through my screen
there is neither breeze
nor shotgun

to stop this ascending
apocalypse of water

—tides & carbon & breath

—can a corkscrew stop a ghoul?

corals are bleaching

a taxi is idling
between unopened graves


   this island is two islands as it eases into storm
the line between the sun-cap waves
     —glittering, glistening—neither says the fifth of it,
     nor do cerulean, aquamarine, ultramarine, verdimarine
begin to touch the blues—the line
between the waters & the grayful sky
is the same, ocean rumbling thunder
           is everywhere
                      w/o flash
and the coral grows brown—just brown—
in the same patterns, equi-
distant from the same shore

even the pigs
chased by the same
chihuahuas & lab
have the same spots

but on one island, I’m twisted from the hammock
by my forty grandchildren—some of whom aren’t mine
but all wanting to see
my mermaid trick
of squirting the sea out through my joined

and the other island—
I’ve swum to the tip and back to the dock
and hide beneath broken thatch
to text the boy I know won’t love me back
and write:


you could be Uncle Death with the ocean behind you
your hairless head, your coffin
-brown eyes

and look
I’ve all but begged you to carry me off
—maybe I did beg, when I was still drinking

                    —maybe Hades
only did what she wanted
—you can see why she’d have to lie

                                  her mother
would starve the whole world if she
     left forever

                      —what would a mother like that
do to a daughter
  who wanted another world?

                                   The answer leaves
very few scars—witness my back—
and too many—how I heard that I ruined her life.

But Persephone’s the Queen of Hell
—and all I’ve had are little hells

of bruising and smashing
on sinks, and cheap
hotel sheets
where I didn’t bleed when I was raped

so won’t you be my Uncle Death
and carry me under
the dying coral,
beyond demersal regions
to layers of geology
no scientists can name

where fossils speak
and little deaths


           tan bodies—wings
           surf winds between
           same-color drops

           smaller than storm
           clouds promise
           to fall on white

(also a swarm
around one black dog,
one child in pink
& lines empty

of laundry their ROY
-green-blue-and-violet plastic clips
yearn to bite


Elizabeth Kate Switaj is a Liberal Arts Instructor at the 
College of the Marshall Islands. She holds a Ph.D. in English 
from Queen’s University Belfast and an M.F.A. in Poetics and 
Creative Writing from New College of California. Her first 
collection of poetry, Magdalene & the Mermaids, was published 
in 2009 by Paper Kite Press. Recent poems have appeared in 
Compose and Sundog Lit. For more information visit her website.

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