How to Board a Moving Ship by Rikki Santer

How to Board a Moving Ship

Poetry by Rikki Santer Includes a 3-dollar shipping charge


Rikki Santer’s dazzling How to Board a Moving Ship makes the familiar brilliantly strange again. Neighbors are bears in “golden vanilla coats,” garden gnomes wander, adolescence is electric and ever present, headlines promise life on other planets, and the cruel pageantry of our government is loud as a carnival. Between the lights and neighborhoods and catwalks, loss lives here, too, as when Santer describes her mother: “the palindrome of my mother’s / chest scars, targets where her breasts used to be.” Santer is both a magician and our Virgil, guiding us through each vignette, whether it’s a vision from childhood – “memories wash / lean in the tides—red rover, red rover” – or “the politics of textile” and the splendor and harm of fashion. Santer invites us to marvel and reminds us that even in an unpredictable and painful world, there is still so much wonder ready for an audience.

-Ruth Awad, author of Set to Music a Wildfire.

Dream Recurring 

I live in a foreign house where I never reside, 
	except in reruns that come around too often
			to suspend and stall me.  My everything’s in 
		there—furniture, cats, boyfriend whispers, but 
	sometimes stuff that isn’t, like this morning’s
			motorcycle panting in the hallway, grimy work 
gloves pinned to the wall—my curator’s brio.

				At the end of a cul-de-sac, the front yard 
		overgrown with shrubbery, edges blur,
	haunted like a Google street view—yet
			there I am, young girl swinging swinging
		a rusty gate, a sun fringed in fog, and 
			heaps of loose keys under blooming   
	redbud. On a familiar kitchen counter, 
dog-eared catalogue of mail-order firecrackers, 
		porcelain bowl teetering with pimento tongues. 
	I cha-cha-slide on chessboard floor as a troupe
of three-legged Maine Coons weaves around me.

	What’s really snagged in these brimming
		baskets of recall?  Spent tampons gnarl
			in bathroom sink, plastic shower curtain
				busy with squirrels, boyfriend fingernails—
	gruff and ready—retrace circles on steamed-up 
		mirror.  I hear my underwater snores and
			stutterings.  Dollhouse tableaus vaporize
on loop.  Bedside clock with morning sonata.
	Each time when I emerge, memories wash 
				lean in the tides—red rover, red rover.

Clothes Horse

You like wearing a soup of polka dots with rascally pockets 
	and that hat of ostrich-egg-over-easy.  You’re a landscape
seen through pinhole, born for knowing how to keep your clothes
	dancing. Passersby nod through clouds around you,
gardenia with a bit of ginger on top.  Sometimes you’re in the habit
	of spandex, buttery soft camel toe whispering for guests.
Sometimes you’re all in for the dissenting swag of a judge’s collar.
	But always you’re hungry for the click & collect, or thrifting
in the hunt for your next highlight reel. Closets never enough,
	scarves and gloves and bracelets color-sorted in the pantry.
You tell us it was the shapeshifting of adolescence that got you here, 
	the scripture of accessory, the rebel arithmetic of your  
outsiderness + your outside-ness = bondage trousers, chain mail nose
	ring, neon spikes for hair.  Now it’s martingale back and designer
pouch with teacup pooch.  You say you always wear your soul on
	your sleeve, your style slippery or stonewashed. And there you
 go again, chiffon creature preening in limelight,  combat boots prancing
	for romantic notions like sprezzatura and je ne sais quoi.

About the Author

Rikki Santer’s work has appeared in various publications including Ms. Magazine, Poetry East, Slab, Slipstream, [PANK], Crab Orchard Review, RHINO, Grimm, Hotel Amerika, and The Main Street Rag. Her work has received many honors including five Pushcart and three Ohioana book award nominations as well as a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities. This is her tenth full-length collection.