James Longenbach
In the Village



Shortly before I died,

Or possibly after,

I moved to a small village by the sea.


You’ll recognize it, as did I, because I’ve written

About this village before.

The rocky sliver of land, the little houses where the fishermen once lived—


We had everything we needed: a couple of rooms

Overlooking the harbor,

A small collection of books,

Paperbacks, the pages

Brittle with age.


How, if I’d never seen

The village, had I pictured it so accurately?

How did I know we’d be happy there,

Happier than ever before?


The books reminded me of what,

In our youth,

We called literature.





The sentences I’ve just written

Took it out of me.

I searched for the words,

And I resisted them as soon as I put them down.


Now, listening to them again, what I hear

Is not so much nostalgia

As a love of beginning.  A wish


Never to be removed

From time but

Always to be immersed in it, always looking forward,

Never behind.


The boats come in,

The boats go out—





After a routine ultrasound revealed a fifteen-centimeter mass, my left kidney was removed robotically on February 12th.  Fifteen months later, nodules were discovered in my lungs and peritoneum.  Two subsequent rounds of therapy failed to impede their growth, so I enrolled in a trial, a treatment not yet FDA approved. 


Shrinkage of the tumors was immediate, as was the condensation of my sense of time: moments in my youth once distant, even irrelevant, felt burningly present.  Didn’t everyone, my parents, my grandparents, grow old before they died?  Then what about Tony?  What about Russ?  Hadn’t their lives, though long past fifty, only begun?


I walked down High Street to the harbor, though when I say walked I mean imagined; I hadn’t been there yet.





The Branch Will Not Break.


A Cold Spring.




The Lost World.


The Moving Target.


Nightmare Begins Responsibility.


Rivers and Mountains.


The Story of Our Lives.


Untitled Subjects.


Water Street.





Of ghosts pursued, forgotten, sought anew—

The trees are full of them. 


From trees come books, that, when they open,

Lead you to expect a person

On the other side:


One hand having pulled

The doorknob

Towards him, the other held out, open, beckoning you forward—





Ash-blond, tall, a sweater

Knotted by its sleeves around his neck,

A boy is leaning on a bicycle.  Deftly when she reaches him


A girl slips to the grass, one hand straightening

Her skirt around her thighs, the other

Tugging at the boy, who remains

Standing, to sit beside her.


Their heads are close

Enough to be touching;

Their lips are still—


A book is the future. 

You dream

Of reading it, and once you’ve finished, it’s a miracle, you know the past.


The sky fills with stars.  The sun

Climbs every morning

Over Watch Hill, dropping behind the harbor at dusk.


Water Street runs past

Church and Union,

Harmony and Wall,

Until it crosses Omega, by the sea.




Found In Volume 49, No. 02
Read Issue
  • 2010 01 27 james longenbach 536
James Longenbach
About the Author

James Longenbach is the author of the critical works Stone Cottage: Pound, Yeats, and Modernism (1988), Wallace Stevens: The Plain Sense of Things (1991), Modern Poetry After Modernism (1997), The Resistance to Poetry (2004), The Art of the Poetic Line (2008), The Virtues of Poetry (2013), How Poems Get Made (2018), and The Lyric Now (2020). His poetry collections include Threshold (1998), Fleet River (2003), Draft of a Letter (2007), The Iron Key (2010), Earthling (2017), and Forever (forthcoming 2021).