V  P  R

Contemporary Poetry and Poetics





                                       Hoisting two sacks
on my left shoulder and back, I ploddingly cover
                    the same shoreside road five times in my search
            for Corporal, checking out leads
                            from a dozen-odd passersby.
                                                    They've all seen him
                                    just minutes ago, but where?...  He never
                                                comes or goes by the clock.
                            His two-day's-growth of silvery beard flares
        the Black Man's 5 O'clock shadow.  White shadow.
                                           A little mist
                   of whitish cloud around the jaws.

                                        Sideburns of tinsel...
Corporal hangs out.  That's his sole vocation.  Everyone
                    has seen him today, early or late; he's always
            half-absent, half-present, a ghost
                            of himself.  Just so.  Now he stands
                                                    and leans, peering down
                                    at me, askance, from his second story
                                                porch rail÷an American
                            weighed down by two stuffed backpacks, begging
        to hitch a ride to his home isle, Maireau, where
                                                I'm to hole up
                        in his brother Dennis's HIDEAWAY

                                        guest house. Sure ting,
says he. It's a twelve-minute ride in the Boston Whaler.
                    We leave in a half hour, you the lone passenger.
            She's the bright yellow speedboat
                            at the Pier's far edge...  I toss
                                                    my bags ahead, jump
                                    aboard and squat on the middle plank seat,
                                                while flying over my scalp
                            from two angles come thin legs, wiry human
        missiles, three in number.  The boy, eleven, falls to
                                                in place beside me.
                        The lass, fourteen, goes wriggling

                                        into concave hollow
of the bow.  A third child of uncertain gender, perhaps
                    midway between the two pals in age, sprawls face-
            down on top of the bow...  Two flicks
                            of the throttle. and we're bucking
                                                    from dockside, fullspeed
                                    in seconds.  I soon learn, by a repartee
                                                exchange of basic life stats,
                            not one child can swim a stroke.  You guessed it,
        Corporal too÷the Skipper÷can't swim a damn lick.
                                                And no life vests,
                        or hoops, on board!  Two of the sprites

                                        are Corporal's kids,
the eldest a school and church chum; and when I bellow
                    my alarm at the crazy risks÷three child lives
            on the line÷Corp swerves the bow
                            in zigzags over the choppy wave
                                                    bucks (as if to mock
                                    my fears), and boldly anoints me lifeguard÷
                                                one swimmer per boatload
                            should suffice...  As we leave the harborage
        and strike out for open water, the middle child
                                                (a lass, I now
                        see: her beginning breast nuggets sil-

                                        houetted in outline
on spray-drenched white T-shirt), bursts forth with arias
                    and folksy tunes, her words sung in crisp dialect÷
            a fetching and seductive accent,
                            the others drawn into her medley:
                                                    the best songs subtle
                                    and pitched for a trio ensemble, three-part
                                                voices spread out, happily,
                            over as many octaves.  Old nature limericks,
        folk songs, garden and bestiary myths are mingled
                                                with Bible Class
                        tunes, snatches of scripture·  All voices

                                        are cut off, squelched
by abrupt motor stallout: sputtery feeble putt-putt,
                    shooting sparks & coughing to a halt.  We're whirled
            about by a little maelstrom,
                            halfway between two nearest
                                                    land strips.  What now?,
                                    I say.  We're stranded·  Corporal's huffing
                                                over his string-yank starter
                            (which recalls my futile tries to get my stalled
        lawnmower going last month in faroff Illinois)÷
                                                I mildly panic.
                        If we're out of gas or faced with engine

                                        blockage, what a fix!
Four non-swimmers plus one weak stay-afloat paddler, me.
                    Late afternoon.  No other craft÷whether sailboat,
            oar-propelled or motorized vessel÷
                            in view.  The closer land dots
                                                    some four miles distant,
                                    in either direction.  But none aboard half-
                                                way share my angst·  Motor's
                            flooded.  Needs to set & drain out for five minutes
        or so.  Corporal directs us to switch our seats,
                                                thus reapportion
                        our weights.  Then he cranks the throttle,

                                        it sparks, picks up
again faster than before, our balance now on even keel.
                    We lurch between whitecaps, and sweep to Maireau's
            south beach in three minutes flat.
                        You out first, says Corporal.  I'm
                                                    to broadjump from the bow
                                    over the receding surf to beach, and I do,
                                                plashless, at the right moment·
                            Two crew kids and I boost the boat stern upshore,
        heave by heave, while the small lad fits a rolling log
                                                beneath the keel,
                        gliding into our palm-tree anchorage.

© by Laurence Lieberman


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