Fishermen drag in the tide. Their reels sound
like gulls. Clam-diggers forsake their spit of muck
for the cold sand where you and I walk,
barefoot, against the flag-flapping wind.
Do they guess this is a "romantic weekend"
for us or do they think two women cannot ache
that way? You will not take my hand in public,
afraid of the fishermen’s reprimand.
I think this fear in you is what disturbs
me most, this desire for us to act like fugitives.
The hermit crab teaches you a lesson
not meant for us. Love, why must you listen?
All around us lies the wreckage of lives,
shells abandoned like poisoned suburbs.
Enameled crabs are strewn in brittle
constellations on the beach. The bleached clams
are dented moons. Their astrology is subtle;
every planet makes a tidal claim.
I wonder as we walk which one you will choose.
Gulls’ prints decorate the wet flat in hieroglyphs
that look like birds themselves, fifth-grade arrows
chasing the clouds. We follow their path as if
at the end we, too, might take flight. Thirteen
summers ago I rescued a gull here
which died on the way to the Audubon station.
I made love with a boy on these dunes. The shore
is a palimpsest of loss; nothing resists synthesis.
But the sea has no pity for the sacrifice.
Eel grass rattles in the dunes, silver,
overexposed, a drained monochrome.
It gathers the sand in its hairy weir
with a gray grasp. My claim to you is the same
tentative clasping. Wellfleet’s foghorn booms
an elegy over the filled-in bay.
Dusk shuts its blue shutters against the storm.
Tonight perhaps the tide will be high
enough to wash the beached slum of sea trash away
from the house, to set free the loosened buoy
of memory. You are my only buoy now.
The sea imposes its restless curfew
on us. Gulls patrol the shore. The beach house
harbors our nervous exile. Waves lap at the grass.
Light the color of white wine pours out
of the neighbors’ window. Ringing the bay
are smaller lights, sweet bells. The target
ship disappears into indigo.
It has been anchored in the bay ever
since I can remember, a porous reef
of shelled metal. One summer, still during the war,
my uncle rowed me to it in his skiff
when the bomber squads weren’t practicing.
Light flickered like minnows in its cavities
while the sea completed the bombers’ instructions.
War and the sea have settled so many destinies.
I am thinking now of the soldiers rescued at
Dunkirk and how rarely love sends its boats out like that.
Morning. The sand is snow again, a white carpet
that needs vacuuming. The tide has waned;
soon the clam-diggers will return with their buckets
and hip-high boots. The sea sounds moccasinned.
Gulls reel above you as you try to find
some suitable memento to take home
among the broken necklaces of shells and strands
of seaweed jumbled like cheerleaders’ pom-poms.
Now you bring me the casing of a razor clam,
the sea’s slim switchblade, though you fail
to notice its blunt symbolism.
O how I envy the grip of the barnacle,
impervious to the tide’s commute;
how I envy the handsome fisherman his net.
(Reprinted by permission from The Nation.
Copyright © 1984 by Jennifer Rose. All rights reserved.)
Marsh Grass, Autumn--Photograph by John Goldie
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