V  P  R

Contemporary Poetry and Poetics




In the shoebox in my closet, mausoleum of frames, lens,
cases, a round gold pair, antiques, templates light as ghosts.
Wearing these, I saw George ferry in his dead father,
heart attack, so Billy, older brother, said burying the boat
needed one more. I wore them the day we rode over the bar,
George out of jail, my friend, me just twenty-two, peeling
dinghy towed behind, sun a gas fire. In the v-notch prow
I felt salt crusting my face as we plowed and burst through
swells over bottom white as bed sheets, islands of green
sea plants waving in slow motion, a choreography of tides
you can’t see except by what they move. I saw everything
that swam and darted and burrowed there, then we curled
in a cove, its hummock cradling buried hulls canted as if
in forgiveness, ours next to be sunk. It was supposed to be
easy, we’d ram the slim twenty-footer in the narrow squinch
of shallow water between two already gutted, so far gone
thieves would find no brass screw, no wheel, no painted name.

I was supposed to putter behind, deliverer where a hole was
chopped, dinghy’s once-drowned, stuck throttle eased like
a latch, ferryman to dark souls begot by the departed father
the soon-to-be dead boat buoyed in and out forty-four years.
But when I pushed, it stuck, water held me like mud-suck.
Gently at first, they called to me, then in hoarse commands
like those of Achilles watching spirits of comrades fly off
in specks of blood, then George firing his old man’s pistol
more or less at me. Ripping a knuckle, I snapped the petcock
off, bow lifting with a roar, the hull vaulting forward, rolled
side to side, as I leaned to see what stake loomed, glasses
spattered as if with brains and pieces of skin, and like trash
I came finally settled all at once as if dropped from a deck,
water sloshing and chafing the way a man’s terror will do,
both brothers hopping in, dinghy beating at its own wake.
“Son of bitch if I ever forget you!” George said. Billy glared.
I wanted to wipe my glasses but, soaked, I went on blindly.

Today along the bar shore a cold scatter of boats, gulls high
tacking in sun’s sway, cries so different, so alike nothing looks
up, gold-eyed, for the source. The smell of gas mud makes
decaying is all it takes to call back a waterman’s odor of salt,
bushels filled, stacked, held to the buy-man, then guzzle hot
in throats, soft talk hours. Each fragment of driftwood seems
bone bleached, enemies driven to reed-edge, hulled, broken
gouge and push of manhood’s will, smooth to the touch as
love’s father stilled—they were supposed to hack out a hole,
two in tandem, me to ferry, but did not, unable to blink off
what happens, that dream of the good. We wiped glasses,
all morning drank whiskey, having puttered back to land.
George died. Boat drifted. Billy, unsleeping, rocks in a chair,
watching the bar where all you see’s like water in a paint can.
For the youngest, cataract surgery years back, smallest move
of fin or claw a ready text. Gold frames in a drawer stashed.
One lens an eye thumbed out. Other, as if wet or dark, shining.


© by Dave Smith


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