Nocturne from a Ship’s Hold

by Chelsea Dingman


The sea. Sky. Glittering, two sequined
pilgrims. A tear in my sleeve grows, pale skin
disfigured by light, by shadow. Long nights

on water, my breaths I hold like fumes
in a gas can waiting for land. To unfurl
the constellations. The thrust of the ship’s hull

through water reminds me of a girl
I knew once. Her thighs, soft and crumbling
like white sand. I touched her mouth

to hear myself breathe. To capture something
holy when nothing was holy. She was
right. She told me that we couldn’t be

saved. Our names. Light. The moon
setting us on fire. Ash in our mouths
as we press forward. Slaves we make

of our bodies as we beat them
against water, wind. Against
the first bruise of loneliness.

CHELSEA DINGMAN is a Canadian citizen and Visiting Instructor at the University of South Florida. Her first book, Thaw, was chosen by Allison Joseph to win the National Poetry Series (University of Georgia Press, 2017). In 2016-17, she also won The Southeast Review’s Gearhart Poetry Prize, The Sycamore Review’s Wabash Prize, and Water-stone Review’s Jane Kenyon Poetry Prize. Her work can be found in Ninth Letter, The Colorado Review, Mid-American Review, Cincinnati Review, and Gulf Coast, among others. Visit her website: