If We Think the Tide Cruel


Giavanna Munafo




Begin with loss and see
how the world contradicts you,
how the horizon implies that beyond it
the water is not empty
but full of ships
all docking at another island.


                    —Lynn Emanuel



At this angle

Her blowing hair tears

The air.  A catastrophe

However dim in comparison

To the echo of ever

The force of which erases

All grace from earth

Like happenstance meetings

Between ego and idol.

If I am jealous at all

I keep silent.  Her tongue

Tastes of lemon, of

Lessons I never master

And never forget.

Outside the familiar rent air

Leaves a peculiar trace

Almost quaint, dusty.

Without rest, the sea

Persistent as a saint

Tumbles up and back

Down the rocks.  Unspoken

Promises preserve like vinegar

Filtering sun from east to west.




Noon hits overhead, hot.

Open your eyes at once,

Sweetness is escaping us.

Moon pulls the other way

Outside the sinister sun.

Keep standing, keep still,

Internal clock ticking.

Nod once then drift away.

Gather they tell us, gather.

Onto our backs it burns.

Utter shade, utter rain.

Together we go up in flames,

Sever all connection,

Issue last words, last rites,

Dive into old sorrows.

Effort slips into memory,

Village lore settles into dust.

If we let go now we are lost.

Language drifts into groan.

Leverage now means blindness.

Alter nothing, whisper good-bye.

Gift now means water,

Essence kissing rock.




Gulls call our names here, at the end of the earth

where rock meets sea in a kiss thick with ruin.

Or is it?  Is it instead a kiss wild with gladness, a home-

coming intent upon embrace, oblivious to immanent

loss?  The sea knows, as do the rocks, how transient

the tide makes their caress, pulling the sea away

even as it draws her in.  The rocks all memory, window

to her vaporous breath.  There is no within, only endless

arrival and departure, inseparable at this farthest

promontory where clouds blanket the horizon

and gulls circle, calling you too, you too, you too.




if anything is absolute it is the sea

no trick merely repetition

tell me this if we lie still long enough

do we become helpless as dirt mindless as waves

and if there is no end to their crashing

is it like the laughter of the insane echoing

from shore to shore across the island

one gesture a single glance our only hope

your heart taps out an oceanic saga

no title though it begins and ends

what little heaven we have here salts the flesh

my open palm slides into yours

reckless and with intention

if you suggest otherwise we need only listen

to the easy thunder of the sea clambering to shore




Vice or saving grace, hard to tell.

Inside my head gulls cry, I smell fishes, docks.

Separate currents tear one way and the other,

Issue warnings only audible in the deep.

Tantrum or jubilation, it’s your call.

Tongue in cheek turns melancholy in all this wind.

Hearty folk trudge right on through

Exquisite in their indifference to utter chaos.

Meaning you and I better run for cover

Unless it’s each other we need for shelter,

Selfish tourists just out for some fun.

Enjoy that illusion.  Enjoy the sun.  Enjoy.

Understand only this: gulls cry hungry or not.

Mine, you said, all mine.  Now, dive.




Trouble is summer passes.

Heavy weather roars ashore

Eager as the fever

Bereaved survivors curse.

Ample eaves groan under snow.

Regal egrets cower then flee.

Nonsense, you say, winter’s merely

Afterlife on earth.

Cabin fever makes us wary.

Lobster red August dusk an

Exception to the rule.




mostly it’s about missing

about the only one now irretrievable

the nasty truth is grief fades

you heave yourself onward

like these ferries braving the elements

what’s gone but the body

another gust off the sea slips along your shin

nails home how simply loss lives in the wind

motherly in its devotion to healing

its love of the air

why insist otherwise why track south

when north currents flow homeward




It barely matters, low tide

Or high, what’s absent

Returns, like a pet kept fed

Only feigns escape to find

The way home.  Forgetting is rare

As the yes lovers whisper

Freely given.  We are all

Like the infant, ready to take

What comes, holding fast to comfort

Recoiling from salt.  But the sea

Brings it, token kiss.




internal churning akin to waves unfurling

song onto sand then pulling back from land’s end

lasting only seconds heartbeats

answer to what insistent question

noble but futile yearning for bliss

deliver us from the sea and her burning lips

inscribe their kiss onto distant shores

name your own tempest one with hers

nothing resting between you




Tangled sheets tell a story

night sweats, wet limbs, hurricane weather.

We might even find ourselves at the end

of the dock, tide rushing out again

sucking and pulling, our tongues ranting

a chorus about ailment and greed.

But you need only inquire further

to discover laughter, the release

beneath desire deemed illicit.

And this despite the natural world.

It’s a gamble leaving shore

saying yes to the spray off Pulpit Rock.

If we look back the cliffs may be empty.

If we do not we may never know why.




The sea accepts what’s offered

Wears debris dull the way an argument

Never settled exhausts passion until

The next full moon signals time to leave.

If we think the tide cruel we may unwind

In each other’s arms like the last lupine

Bowing as first frost moves inside.

Forget first sin, forget being right.

Come, stand at the very edge of the garden

Where risk yields rich purples.  Roam

Wildly at the eleventh hour, but never

Stray from the broad shoulders

Whose memory would else eat at your sleep

Whose graceful sweep rivals sloops of lore

Whose faith in your hands eases

Backbone, eases day’s end

As orange light races across the swells

To soften only on touching land.









Giavanna Munafo’s poems have appeared in Slab, Talking Writing, Redheaded Stepchild, The New Virginia Review, Bloodroot Literary Magazine and The Nearest Poem Anthology (Ed. Sofia Starnes).  She holds a BA and PhD from the University of Virginia and an MFA from the University of Iowa.  In addition to teaching in women’s, gender and sexuality studies at Dartmouth College, Giavanna is a volunteer crisis counselor and advocate and does consulting work focused on diversity and equity.  She lives in Norwich, Vermont, with her partner, Jim, their son, Max, and their border collies, Shy and Phe.