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[Poetry] Three Poems by Rebecca Nelson

Updated: Dec 18, 2022

Ghost Nets

Between moonlight and water, my ghosts scroll through the sea with spent fishing line, trapped creatures.

If moonlight could drown, stars, salt, depth. I hear them in the wind: whale songs and Yiddish prayers.

The palm fronds whoosh. Not so much a story remembered but pieces of a net in the shell-bright moon.

Diaspora of flotsam, whelk, coral wracks the tide-line, seaborn and strange. Water slackens.

Sometimes, I hear laughter in the wind. Sometimes, a kid stands at the shore, shouts then fades to expanding blue.

Water slips through the net— time loosened up, relative to arcing terns. The waves shimmer.

Facing the Sea


Early October and after the rain, I stand at the shore. Water sighs. Clouds shift and light spins silver. Call of the plover pierces the blue. I carry my ghosts to the tide and release them as stones. Black rock offered to sunken cypress. Shadows skim the hills.

Leaves dance at the edge of the water. Your footsteps pound in the waves breaking. Call it ghosts or call it a sandal left in the sand. The wind surrounds. The jagged rim of the sea spills over. Gulls wheel, and the sea uproots.


We find each other from a great distance and laugh. The coastline spirals beyond us. Mist exhales down. Over the cypress, the beating wings of an absent bird. Rain hisses at the pages; the trees unravel their green fire. Shells scatter. The mist dissolves the hills

the way memory will erase a face to the fog of breath on a window. Clouds reflect in the surf. Water rushes. I glimpse you—no, a palm frond.

Through wind and sea and cloud, shadows flow. A stone or a song churns in the mind when the leaves ride

out to sea with the stars.


She will stand here as I am at the edge of the sea as you did, watching the waves spread out.

A migratory bird drums up from the swells, wings pulsing. Giver of October rain, your heart carries cyclones. You dance, and the storm follows. Thunder in the sea’s song, your words.

The pigeon’s dirge plays over wind and rock, recalling how mist pearled off the lake by the barn in the predawn chill.


Through the trees, a window of light opens to swirling discs of color, a mural through which I enter her lost farm. Curated paint: blue for the lake and gold for the grass. The long gone willow slumps toward the farmhouse. You cover the wall with color, and the storm follows you.


The birds rocket over the shore. Women dance in the sand. Leaves spiral away. The heart drums.

Ghosts ebb and flow with the tides. Translucent jellyfish and the silence we carry. The sea breathes heavy. You leap toward the salt-brushed air, and the storm follows you.

Sun dazzles the water. The waves redden, recalling the barn on a fall morning.

Birds dissolve into rocks, and the rocks fade with the tide. The sea evaporates and shrouds the hills, becoming rain that blankets the dancers. Until light washes across the sea, the women. A wet sleeve wipes fog from the window.


A woman in a gold dress walks toward the willow and the barn. Her dress flings light over the strawberry fields and the rocks that carry the bones of past seas in their pores. She runs, and the storm follows.

The trees bend with salt and age. Light phantoms the sea. We dance, and the storm follows.

I listen to the waves. Fish leap from the water. The leaves are pages of captured light. They fly across the sea with October rain, emptying the branches


In memory of Professor Susan Williams, ocean conservationist

The sea unmakes itself in you— each neat blue curl gleams periwinkle. You walk across sharp rocks, gently; watershine in your eyes. Green anemones unfurl around you.

Each tidepool reflects you kneeling prayer-like watching moon snails. Frilled tunicates waver. Eelgrass

bows to quiet after the loon dives to remember the shape of your presence.

Rebecca Nelson is a PhD candidate in the Graduate Group in Ecology at University of California Davis. She graduated from Stanford University with a BS in Biology, a Minor in Creative Writing, and a Notation in Science Communication. Her writing has previously appeared in Moon Magazine, EcoTheo Review, and Anthroposphere. Her first collection of poems, Walking the Arroyo is available on Kindle. You can contact Rebecca at


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