The great American poet William Carlos Williams famously said, “No ideas but in things.” He didn’t mean that poems shouldn’t contain ideas, but that concrete things can stand for ideas and make them solid. Great poems break this advice all the time, but there is something to it. Poems most often pay attention to the physical world, or take an idea or feeling and make it physical.

In this week’s poem, Sarah Kilch Gaffney shows us a thing: a comb jelly. In this case, the speaker’s fascination with comb jellies stands for her youth, her coming-of-age, and the danger that lies near the center of even the most familiar things.

Poem with Comb Jellies

By Sarah Kilch Gaffney

I remember being young,

cupping the translucent


globes in a semi-submersed

palm, held close, caught,

but still elementally afloat.

One summer, a tourist boy

bet me five dollars to swim

out and touch a Lion’s Mane


the size of my circled arms:

he must not have known

how much that cold,

dark water, delicate,

stinging flesh, was home.

Gibson Fay-LeBlanc is Portland’s poet laureate. Deep Water: Maine Poems is produced in collaboration with the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. Poem copyright © 2016 Sarah Kilch Gaffney. It appears here by permission of the author.

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