American Life in Poetry: Column 311


Peggy Shumaker lives in Alaska, but she gets around the world. Here she takes us with her on a ninety-foot dive into colorful mid-Pacific waters.

Night Dive

Plankton rise toward the full moon
spread thin on Wakaya’s surface.
Manta rays’ great curls of jaw
scoop backward somersaults of ocean
in through painted caves of their mouths, out
through sliced gills. Red sea fans
pulse. The leopard shark
lounges on a smooth ramp of sand,
skin jeweled with small hangers-on.
Pyramid fish point the way to the surface.

Ninety feet down, blue ribbon eels cough,
their mouths neon cautions.
Ghost pipefish curl in the divemaster’s palm.
Soft corals unfurl rainbow polyps, thousands
of mouths held open to night.
Currents’ communion—giant clams
slam shut wavy jaws, send
shivers of water. Christmas tree worms
snap back, flat spirals tight,
living petroglyphs against the night.

We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2010 by Peggy Shumaker from her most recent book of poetry, Gnawed Bones, Red Hen Press, 2010. Reprinted by permission of Peggy Shumaker and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2020 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.