Where we swam alone under the skiff,
its green shadow knife-shaped
ribbons of seaweed,
the soundless engine,
soundless the shouts
and the wind
shouldering the surf’s
white flowers, water
snuffed up our sinuses,
the beach-fire cinders
like phosphorous at night,
jeans caked with salt,
the funeral moon.
Beach with dark rocks and saw grass,
winter keeps coming down from the north,
each grain of sand ticks underfoot,
each star whines overhead.
Beach with dark rocks, the long boats
drift, the children leave home, no one
speaks. Each night lying down
in our sea-wrack, each day waking
into our skin.
Come close and whisper the names
of the living, names of the dead returning,
sleepwalkers holding their hands out,
litter of sea-straw and sand like dark metal,
song of arriving and going away.
Forgive me my pride, inexplicable
under the circumstances,
storm coming in tomorrow night,
old raingear dotted with herring scales.
I ate the kelp blossom
down to the root,
eel flesh and crab flesh, I ate the shark meat,
octopus, yellow fin, scallops, clams,
delicate flesh of the lobster.
What was the song she sang,
the sea lion cow asleep on a rock
near Point Reyes?
I hear the deep halls of water
filling up on the ebb
as she turns over, sighing into the algae,
I squatted still in the autumn sand
thinking of red roe and black hair,
women gone down into themselves,
croaking and thrashing
eyes staring blind as glass.
Don’t be afraid to go sailing out,
don’t think of riptides,
risen over the fly bridge,
threads of fire,
the jaws of a wolf eel
slithering out of the trawl.
One summer night the fisherman told us
he’d run aground in the river mouth, hull
mired deep in black mud. He said he saw
the hour of his birth, the swamp slowly
filling with light, kelp stretched out
like a vestment covering the flanks of the marsh,
the sea’s wretched age, monstrous and fecund,
hair full of dead leaves, rayed petals clustered,
shoals of dark gravel exposed.
Inside the wheelhouse one candle burning,
bunks tilted stiffly to starboard.
He told us sometimes he’d rather be dead
than face the gray rooming house
and a day-job, his heart like iron
remembering the sea and staring
at frayed pallets stacked in a warehouse
smelling of creosote. All
the gathered rubbings of shore trash
making him sneeze and itch:
stove-ashes, moth wings stuck to the screens,
dog hair, spider webs, elm pollen.
Always the sound of the hull slapping down
into the wave trough, always
the caulked seam of metal
its green wet-patch turning to sugar,
saltwater seeping down the spine,
miles offshore the snowy moonlight,
miles below the abyssal trench
where a creature with no eyes
and glandular poison sends its forked signals
into the murk, sleepless predator
prowling the blind shadows,
turning its stomach inside out,
vulnerable, sunk in its hunger.
This time of year you can hate the snow,
freezing the tie-up lines, coating the wharves,
falling into the jagged surf.
If you wait long enough you can ride
into town on the boom truck, its tire chains
shredding the crust, the engine
so noisy no one can speak,
the driver grinding it up into second
frowning with grease on his knuckle.
No place will be open now
except for the sad bar, barren of women,
except for the motel near the dunes
with its flocked wall paper
and rusty heater that moans
in the night like a tired swan.
The next day no one will look
in your eyes, transparent stranger
belonging to no one,
not the children sledding on cardboard
down through the frozen parking lot,
not the waitress humming a song
you think you almost remember…
If she asked you about your family
you could show her their silhouettes
in a drop of water
from Wingaersheek Beach
you keep in a jar by the window.
You could show her
the rags of evening
fluttering over the waves
and a sofa’s blond fabric
dotted with burns
like the skin of a mangy leopard.
You could show her the plaster
emblems of dynasty fallen,
the copy of Queen Nefertiti’s face,
its nose broken off,
her green headdress wound high
into the domed light
sifting down on the sink.
Thy sea is so great
and my boat is so small
stamped in metal over the door—
your thin hands gripping the shovel
loosening dirt in the garden,
the restless claws of the ocean
turning the pebbles and rocks and sand,
tumbling the chitin and shell fragments
ceaselessly each day and night forever:
Quaternary, Cretaceous, Jurassic, Cambrian
onto the shores of this world.