Poetry Porch 2: Poetry

    Eastham Sonnets
    by Jennifer Rose

    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.)

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Marsh Grass, Autumn--Photograph by John Goldie

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