Immigrant Sea
"Northeaster", Winslow Homer (1895)

Immigrant Sea

Forrest Gander
time 2 minutes

Aroused by her inaccessibility, he aches for more
of her life to live inside him. Watching

the breakers, standing so close he can feel
heat coming off her wet scalp. What is

his relation to this person
before him, so familiar and foreign? The way

he searches out her face, he searches out himself. Gusts
thrash crests of swell, spring grasses twirl

circles in the sand where they stand without speaking. She
wants him to know it’s all charged, even grass

positive, pollen negative, so when grass waves,
it sweeps the air for pollen. He feels electricity all around

as though the wild drama of the coming storm were already
aware of them, foreigners on this shore. Little

sapphire-blue flowers speckle the dunes.
He wonders if he has let himself flatten out

into a depthless sheet, like escalator stairs, whether in the end
he’ll disappear underground without the smallest lurch

of resistance. But when her lavish face turns toward him
beaming, the corners of her eyes wind-wet,

he yields to that excess, he reappears to himself.

Read an introduction to this poem.

Also read:

An Introduction to Forrest Gander’s “Immigrant Sea”
“Maine Coast”, Winslow Homer (1896), MET Museum

An Introduction to Forrest Gander’s “Immigrant Sea”

Julia Fiedorczuk

Gander’s artful, formally innovative poetry often concerns perception; what happens when one is looking, listening, touching or otherwise sensing the world. “Immigrant Sea” might perhaps be read as a phenomenological description of an encounter by the sea, an encounter which is itself like the sea in that recognition – of the other and of oneself – pulsates like the waves as the experience oscillates between familiarity and strangeness.

The poem opens with a description of longing. An anonymous “he”, the protagonist of the poem, contemplates the mystery of another human being’s presence. An anonymous “she” is standing right next to him, but in her separate being she is infinitely distant. He would like to reduce the distance, so that more of her life might live inside him. He yearns for their separate selves to mingle. She is close – in space – but inaccessible otherwise than through a longing so powerful it causes his self to flow and ebb – like the sea.

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