Origin Story: Re-Wrought

Elizabeth Bradfield

I was part of a machine I loved. It mothered me, raised me up from what sad self I was, bookish & theoretical and unbodied. By

dog watch. By bo’sun, by heaving line & windlass, by Roger that I learned a life. She was conservative, this mother,

in many ways. Even the corporate particulars: guest not passenger, stateroom not cabin. No tattoos back then. No

piercings other than the two small lobe-holes girls were allowed. She pretended to not notice my nose ring, my raised eyebrow. I loved

the stories she told at night, in the dark pilot house, as I watched with captain or mate for real dangers (we once ran aground) and the predicted

navigational winks telling us where we were (where?) and what to avoid. What to avoid? Whistling, bananas, women, queers. My first true love and I chuckled

then kissed in the gear locker, breast to breast. Look. I slept inside her (that mother). I slept inside her with my siblings: Frank and Nori

and Tom and Michael. Or, more exactly, we shared cabins, bunk by bunk. We slept together in the spell of what it was to choose to sleep there. Innocent then of what machine

we were a part of (marketing, marketing, carbon and trodding). And the older, cooler cousins (officers, engineers, naturalists who’d done this for decades)–I studied them.

Sometimes I, too, pulled up the long brass zipper of my boiler suit and got ready to grind metal or paint a rail with toxic stuff that would endure a while in the tough

air. Sometimes I, too, drove the Zodiac, stood with hand on tiller, left knee braced against the port pontoon. Later, they welcomed me. Let me lecture

on bears or whales or sphagnum. Sometimes I — ahh, fuck it. We were fooling ourselves, even then. Even then, in those days, we knew there was rot and wrong in this. Or we should have.

Elizabeth Bradfield is the author of five poetry collections, most recently Theorem, a collaboration with artist Antonia Contro. Her work has been published in The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, Poetry, and many anthologies, and her honors include the Audre Lorde Prize and a Stegner Fellowship from Stanford University. Founder of Broadsided Press, Liz works as a naturalist and teaches creative writing at Brandeis University. www.ebradfield.com