Poem by Ruth Towne

December 15, 2023

M@rcɘl Jɘ@n’s Mannequin

Atlantic Avenue, Virginia Beach, Virginia
All saline and aquamarine, a warm wave sways me.
I lay back in the Atlantic as a friend and I drift apart.

With half the world to my bare back, I rest. The rest
is all west. I crack the universe in two, a bivalve shell

in brackish swells. Everywhere, strangers wade or play
while I float away. Back on shore, the soft sand shrieks

sun back to the light. Across the smooth quartz dune,
dozens of umbrellas swell, cool cerulean medusae.

And inland, almost far away, scores of other tourists
escape the sweltering street, sheltering as they can

among mannequins in air-conditioned tchotchke shops.
And I was right earlier when I said, It’s a lovely day

to fill one’s pockets with rocks and walk into the sea.
Earlier, I faced the passenger window as we bobbed

across packed highway lanes, and the black compact
in which we rode was another unlucky, slick sardine.

We were on our way to a vacation within a vacation,
to a break within a break. We were silent as stones

until I spoke. It’s all becoming clearer now, as I float
here alone. Break by break, the sea carries me away

from shore, toward a sandbar that’s been swallowing
smooth swells all day, only to spit them out creased
and foaming white. Nearby, shallow shadows cast back to a fishing pier its elongated shape. And afar, dolphins appear–alone, in pairs, alone again. Earlier, we were destined for a boardwalk and for the beach. But we arrived to another reality–kiosks and concrete, a strip mall three miles long, a block of ossified hotels breaking the coast from view. How long did we tread that pale plaster desert before I realized that death is not something to casually reference, no less death by suicide? And how long until I caught the silence to follow? Later, I’ll consider that quiet an offense, since my insensitive allusion to Ms. Woolf’s death, a tragedy, went unrecognized, yet no one stopped me from visiting this beach. Now the saltwater burns my eyes. Now the sea alleviates the heat. Now I see many reasons why one doesn’t make light of death by suicide. It’s a lovely day. It was an awful thing to say. On shore, the sunbathers are mannequins now, bronze and brown dolls posed far apart while children play in the shade of empty jellyfish bells. I drift away from my friend. She waded to shallow water. My landmark, she stands back-to me on cement-hard sand, while the water hides her below the waist. I know I tried, but she and I couldn’t swim at the same pace. And on concrete we did not walk at the same rate, though I swear I tried to shift my stride. We find ourselves apart. Later, she’ll ask, What’s something you’d change to alter your current life in some meaningful way? She’ll answer herself after a break. For her, there’s nothing. Life happened to her and look at what after all it made. I’ll say nothing. She is a doll in the tide. I am the waves. All around, these mannequins wear neoprene, spandex, sometimes sunscreen. All around, figurine fragments wash away–the arms and legs and heads of dismembered dolls, those lost toys. Away, my friend waves at me, I wave back. Later, she’ll say, I love you because you’re a lot like me. It’s a lovely day, so I’ll silently disagree. At one time, experts considered the beach a place of healing. Tumors, imbalanced humors, even melancholy–all these, a shock of cold sea could cure. I stare into the bell jar of the sky, the ultramarine atmosphere. There’s no return from here, no coming back from this beach, this break. So breaks another wave. I lay back in the Atlantic, I drift away. Anyway, a beach is nothing more than loose sand shifting, fluid land one longs to visit but where one cannot stay. And I was right earlier when I said, It’s a lovely day.

About Ruth Towne

Ruth Towne is an emerging poet. Other poems from her project Resurrection of the Mannequins have been published by Decadent Review, New Feathers Anthology, Coffin Bell Journal, New Note Poetry, In Parentheses, and Stonecoast Review’s Staff Spotlight. She also has forthcoming publications in Neologism, Lily Poetry Review, and Poor Ezra’s Almanac.