The Fishermen

Monday, January 18, 2010

The old pros at the counter don’t go out
anymore. They’ve had enough knuckles
cut by rope and steel and scallop shells.

Speake kindlie of no man lest he beginne
an enterprise similar to thin and prosper.

They’ve made the big money, fished when
the rip was sea smoke, shucked their
own and still were drinking by two.

Give nothing away but the time & charges,
pay for nothing on the barrel but your beere.

Now they prefer coffee and stories and
leave dawn to the young turks in layers
of vests and red beards and scowls.

Looke not to another man’s wife with lust,
lest she already hath gained a clearer visage.

They’ve got nothing to prove anymore, just
another day to check the papers for
the scores and who’s left to kick about.

Keepe holy his propertie to thy left and right
with stone: for laws fail when walls fall.

So go ahead—ask for the cream and learn
these precepts in refraction off dispensers,
in wrinkles pressed into formica.

Widelie bring another’s stupidities to light, rub
old salt on injuries. Remind, remind of losses.

For you alone are the chosen ones, you alone
were born and raised, for you alone knew when,
you alone know how they divided the land.

Making the Rip

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The fifth-graders of the Chilmark School are explaining
divisions within the group of mollusks, cuttlefish,
oysters to the town’s fishermen, chairs set in a dorsal fin.

They listen intently as Owen describes the sword
of the swordfish cutting through the water, as Katy details
the dangers of long-lining, Deborah, the principal beaming.

And a hundred residents of the town catch these men
at their best, in plaid shirts on a Sunday afternoon, here
for something we love: fishermen telling stories.

“What’s the biggest fish you ever caught?” We see the glint
of the dart or lily in Greg Mayhew’s eyes as they remember
together, “My goodness, dressed out 525 lbs. as I recall.”

Others remember 608, 618, early days of fishing, early
mornings:“We went up on this fish, hanging down deep . . .
tons of ice in the hold,” hooked to stern for

tuna and the blue, blue of the swordfish, as Herbert calmly
says, “Nothing prettier than a swordfish in the water.”
One to starboard, two to port, three to strike, and drive

that pole down. Louie Larsen muses, “It was work,
and that was fun.” Song of the striker, quahogs,
cherrystones from Clam Point and pulling the traps.

We see the good wave of Bob Flanders, the Unicorn,
Jimmy Morgan pulling in and Jonathan Mayhew smiling.
And the secrets they kept from their fathers: no one tells you

where they go, but you want to go, go out,
waiting for summer, the kids waiting for summer,
squid-jigging, stripers, bluefish . . . Eric Cottle tells us,

“At fourteen, I needed a work certificate to get on
Benjamin Mayhew’s boat. Without it, he wouldn’t let me
work. I couldn’t wait for summer and school to be over—

there’s nothing else I ever wanted to do.” We come about.
Waiting for summer, waiting to drop the lines,
reeling it in.  “. . . nothing else I ever wanted to do.”

Imaginary Numbers

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

This early riser knows the numbers before anyone—
the Daily, Lotto, above or below freezing, temperature
of the stove, inches of snow, scores in the hundreds,
wins, losses, winds northwest 10–20 knots, waves
1–3 feet, visibility 10–15 miles, times of high tide, all
the time in the world before five: the Final Four,
Fourscore, Four Horsemen, best four-out-of-seven,
four bundles to a square, 10-4, 1040, forty hours,
Top Forty, Four Quartets, Beethoven’s Fifth,
Mahler’s Ninth, six strings and the twenty-nine songs
Robert Johnson gave us: six-gun, six-pack, Highway 61—

Love and one equal in numerical value, sum of 26,
the alpha and omega, sun-god ruler of the 365 days,
bang those 88s, Olds 88, Eight Wonders, 8½,
80 Proof, 90 degrees, nine months, nine innings,
Ted Williams, Number Nine, Number Nine, mystical base
of multiplication and addition, Nine of Wands, cloud nine,
Title IX, dressed to the nines, seven oceans, 7 Eccles,
10 Downing, 12 ounces, twelve disciples, twelve-meter—

What holds the earth and sea together, spinning
through rational numbers, division of time and angle
as the Babylonians believed, measuring our days
in sixties, the Sixties, Phillips 66, six-over-six,
666, Beast of the Apocalypse—M16, M-31, K2, B-52,
747, Chapter Eleven, Sixteen Candles, 96 Tears.

Something should count for something, and doesn’t:
fourteen lines, forty days in the desert, a hundred-
and sixty-two games of statistics—the windup
and the pitch: 60 feet 6 inches for bringing in
the heat, that ripping fastball that smacks
in the glove for the third strike, three outs,
two points, ten pins, ten feet, first and ten,
a hundred yards, a thousand years, 1001, 2001,
I-80, I-95, signs for the ride, driving back through
the fields of Virginia: Butterwood, Lovington, Mint
Spring, Sumerduck, populations since the last census
greater than or less than . . . three-decker, three sheets
to the wind, one-night stand, one-track mind, one
and zero, systems of information, still 93 million miles
to divided light in the kitchen, two over easy, two-
by-two, two to tango, putting two and two together:
one gives, the other receives a precious string
of positive numbers, a bundle of multiples, each
absolute leaving a higher value in the unknown.

Walking the Raised White Line

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Please walk fifteen steps in one direction, heel to toe,
counting to fifteen, then turn or twirl and walk
fifteen steps in the other direction
without a separation of slip.

Stars dazzling the reflective paint.
The righteous citizens of Athens whiz by. Dinner that night
nothing special, sirloin tips in Chinese barbecue sauce, a bottle
of a California Cab, 1992, the poet who split the bottle—duck
with blueberries. When he said, “Paris in 1927,” I asked
“Who was there?”
Succulence, sweetness, savory seconds—“Everyone.”

Without spreading your arms, lift either foot
eight inches off the ground and count to fifteen,
a thousand-and-one, a-thousand-and-two . . .
Do you know the English alphabet?

I did. I do. I wrote a term paper on the Easter Rebellion.
But if I ever get out of this, I’ll write, I’ll write—I’ll type
letters, letters, six letters to the inch, the characters pressed
into twenty-four-lb. parchment bond. “Yes.” Yes, I do.”

Please then, without singing or hurrying,
say the English alphabet from A to X.

OK, OK, Alright, B,C, D, digital recording, E.F.,
effortlessly, chiaroscuro, L,M, N is where they want you
to slur, O.P.P., you know me, R, S, T, Orestes,
chased by Furies, U, V, IV, RV, recreational vehicle,
slow at Double U, double-bar, don’t say bar, ranch
in Jackson Hole, watering hole, slower, slower,
Malcolm X, X-Files, loss of license and two-thousand
dollars if I can’t touch the tip of his silver pen, astronauts
circling to an unmanned space station, police station,
space rangers, town police—

Follow the pen with your eyes
and not your hand.

Follow the blip of your heart. What will they know,
what can they establish by watching my eyes move,
same color as their flag insignias, salute, saluud,
to see if it hurts, or are they really watching my hands,
which are not in my pockets or on my hips. Could my hands
be on my hips, are all the bills paid, checks received?
thirty dollar tip on one-thirty-eight, the poet still writes
to Andre Spire’s daughter at Square de Port-Royal.

Where are you coming from and
did you have anything to drink?

Didn’t I pass, didn’t I gain a semblance of balance
in giving straight answers to prepared questions?
Shared a bottle would have been better than half
a bottle. Some wine would have been better than
shared a bottle. More wine would have been better
than anything, and staying there, wild flashes of pulsing blue
over the cemetery, angels on the granite bench. Why didn’t
they ask me a question about God, why didn’t they ask
the proportions of a Rumford fireplace? Freedom, freedom
to come and go as I please, freedom of speech using
the y and the z: a free country with pink azalea bushes,
and cemetery stones inscribed with letters, V for U,
and T for Texas, but if that foot drops, you fall hard,
no one will ever believe you weren’t out speeding,
that your taillight wasn’t out, and you weren’t out
trying to run over their children. How do you answer?
What does the IRS mean when they ask, Is this business
a passive activity? You must explain yourself clearly
to someone who has a job to do, the oddest yellow
piping on his light blue shirt. You must directly state
to the names of the dead, you must without any argument,
without burning the element, you must with no antagonism,
with the plain speech of pure sequence, with the mantle
of indignation, seizing a frame of reference, you must
slowly make clear what you feel the truth to be.

Tombaugh’s Discovery

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

This poem pays tribute to Eugene T. Maleska, the crossword puzzle editor
of The New York Times from 1977 – 1993

for Nikki Langer

The train rattles west of New Haven past eglantine
(sweetbrier), deerberry, calla lily, larkspur
to the city I love, amo, amas, hadj destination,
Mecca for I.M. Pei, commedia dell’arte—
the sunken rooms of elegant apartments, Goyas,
Gauguins on permanent loan—Eero Saarinen’s tulip!

We’re here, we’re happy, so clear, clean, saber
of intelligent air: simpatico, Sacra Romana,
sabra, stark symmetry of darkened windows,
three stairs, then hitch your wagon to a star—
Trish Van Devere, Piper Laurie, Annie Potts,
Teri Garr, and the night has a thousand eyes.

Here they speak our language, vox populi,
adagio, slow ballet of inferred inclusion—
they may be red, they may be liberal. When
we arrive, peer through to the oda, harem room,
diaphanous veil of Olivia de Havilland: to be
in Brest, the soft roll of, the mere heave is

majestic as she laughs—it’s nothing to her, all
part of a song, “Love’s Old Sweet . . . all love is sweet.”
Hosannas, glad tidings, light from water and simple
events: each day a tabula rasa, a kind of a graph, looking
for a word, a world east of the Caspian Sea,
where Bremen’s river, Weser, can empty into Erne.

We measure in decimeters, tackle Hamelin’s problem.
The others are deceived, defrauded, defrocked, dreading
arson or arrow poison, a heckler’s missile, larceny,
a fissure, a crack, a rift, a fissure, a parting,
a cleft, a fissure, a break, lesion, a fissure which
we embrace, a division which we treasure.

Somewhere in a pleasant world where Pedro thirsts,
where Pierre protects his noggin, dada, agua, tete,
we sip a perfect martini, find a crème brulee better
than in any arrondissement in Paris. Pekoe tea is
served, Malacca cane, dates, cakes and ale, a nip
at the bar and English cheese, a gin addition.

A North African weight falls in units of acceleration:
gals—Ella, Edna, Edie in Cassini suits dazzle
the assembled: Youth is a gift of nature, age is
a work of art.” “I could a tale unfold whose
lightest word . . .” Paul Anka in a tribute to Alan Jay
Lerner. Is that Avita or Clara, Fernando or Lorenzo?

Solano through the transoms and slate entrances—
Eris, Goddess of Discord, Irene, Goddess of Peace,
worshipping at the astronomical altar, ara, angel arms,
levels of sacred anagrams—Ino, mystical princess,
Aeneas, son of Aphrodite, by Jove, Juno’s husband,
Jupiter, outermost orb, Pluto, Tombaugh’s discovery.

The sky is like a city at night, the city like a museum,
museum like a party, an opening where Arlo and Oona
show . . . among the impresarios, protagonists, chums,
companions, pals and partners, a boy in Barcelona:
Magic moves across the lane and pulls down a rebound.
We print to fit base hits on the scorecard—Yastrzemski

with two outs in the ninth, pops to third, Graig Nettles,
and we all go home. Home to arias by the soprano,
Erna Berger, the tenor, Leo Slezak, home to the novel
we’re writing mentioning Debussy’s La Mer, Mimi
in La Boheme, writing for the marketplace, agora,
first impression to fourth dimension, ending with a line

from T.S. Eliot, or Maya Angelou, Countee Cullen,
or Pablo Neruda, Andean breezes for the poets:
“I lived on air . . .” Frost. Yes Shubert used Rilke,
but how does anything like Ulysses get written?
And who is more alluring, Actress Ekberg
or Hardy’s Tess, Emma Thompson or Halle Berry?