Karen Llagas

Karen Llagas’s first collection of poetry, Archipelago Dust, was published by Meritage Press in 2010. A recipient of a Filamore Tabios, Sr. Memorial Poetry Prize and a Hedgebrook residency, her poems have appeared in various journals and anthologies. She lectures in UC Berkeley and lives in Los Angeles and San Francisco. She is the recipient of the RHINO 2022 Founders’ Prize.

Poem on Belonging

I GO TO THE OCEAN TO LEARN ABOUT DISTANCE

this morning, at the edge of the Pacific,
crashing to the delight of dogs for whom
waves mean lightness, play.

They jump the way the virus now jumps
across bodies, the morning buses all over
the world near empty. Must I always feel

abandoned? The questions are always
questions of belonging. These days we must
reach for our own answers—I claim

clan with the canine who had cut a swath
on the bed, espresso-colored and ocean-salted,
curled into a bean, seeking warmth from

my nearby body. How far is everyone else
now, or should be. In the California1AX bus,
before distance was something to fret over,

we were near and far at once. I would count
the faces bowed over altars of flickering lights,
the accounting becoming wonder: to look

was the only prayer I could offer. Dear God
I know now I must have belonged to them too.
I am out of words at the beginning of

our new world, having used them up to trick
my fears, so please help us is my morning prayer
thrown to the waves, words of a lapsed Catholic,

a faltering Buddhist, pawing at language,
and doesn’t water always try to answer back?
The ocean calms me like a mother,

let me exhale one more minute: she is a woman
taking the time she needs, letting the ungracious
children scramble among us ourselves.

Copyright © 2021 by Karen Llagas. This poem originally appeared in Migozine January 2021. Used with permission of the author.