Rotunda at dusk
Lifetime Learning

Inland Sea

April is National Poetry Month, and Lifetime Learning is pleased to celebrate the talents of UVA faculty. Enjoy our April poetry series!

Debra Nystrom is a professor in the Department of English‘s Creative Writing Program in the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences at the University of Virginia. Her poetry collections include Night Sky Frequencies and Selected PoemsBad River RoadTorn Sky, and A Quarter Turn.



………….-Pierre, SD, 1961

Your little brother gets squirmy in the grocery cart,
so your mother lifts him out, gives you money
to buy two boxes of animal crackers, saying
to take him next door to the five and dime; she’ll
come find you when she’s done. You pay and wait
for change to put in your pocket, then take his hand
and pull him past the gumball machine at the front,
reminding him what’s over at Ben Franklin’s.
No trees on Main, sun prickling your foreheads, blank
sky meeting ground between the few buildings,
containing them and their scant shade in this place
where horizon surrounds on every side. As you pull
the glass door open with both arms, a bell
rings above the two of you and the clerk
looks up, watches you wander down the creaky
wooden toy-aisle eyeing slinkys
lined up on a shelf above paddleboards with balls
on rubber bands, bins of marbles, jacks,
pretend watches, silly putty, wind-up
monkeys and clowns, and plastic spheres full
of jumping beans— slowly passing them all
without stopping, making your way toward the quiet
at the back of the store where the big bubbling aquarium
glows unearthly blue. You drop your brother’s
hand as he steps close to it, nose at the glass,
pointing and tilting his head up, gradually lowering
his voice to near-whisper, not remembering
the box he holds by its string handle, would normally
open right away and identify
each sweet animal to devour. Together
you watch all the different little rippling shapes
and colors of fish whose names you can’t read
but have asked about many times, and you’ve
helped him to memorize— angelfish, rabbitfish,
rainbows, betas, mollies, platies, neon
tetras weaving in and out of each
other hypnotically, shifting in groups
around pretend sunken ships and sandcastles,
tall waving weeds and half-open treasure chests.
You make up for him hushed stories of where in the world
the graceful creatures might’ve come from, who must
have found them, at what depths, how old the tiny
beings might be, how wise, no matter what strange
place they find themselves in now, place
you stand in forgetting, so far from any kind
of sea. But once at the farm, down by the creek,
you found some rocks with shells in them and took
them back to show your uncle. He said some say
the prairie long ago was a giant ocean
with fish many times the size of people, and that
there were no people at all, not anywhere.

………………………..Debra Nystrom
…………………………..(First published in More in Time, University of Nebraska Press, © 2021)


Continue your education with Lifetime Learning’s online resources available to alumni, parents, and friends.

The Thoughts From the Lawn (TFTL) blog is published by Lifetime Learning at the University of Virginia’s (UVA) Office of Engagement. This platform features UVA faculty and staff articles for the benefit of UVA’s alumni, parents, and friends. The views expressed in TFTL blog posts reflect the views of the authors and not those of Lifetime Learning. Lifetime Learning reviews the content and links in each article before publication; however, we take no responsibility for inaccurate information and/or links that lead to post-publication, unintended sites. Lifetime Learning is not responsible and will not be held liable for blog comments and reserves the right to remove malicious or mean-spirited responses.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *