Archive for September 2009

Lace Stone Walls

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Mud and clay caked
in cold crevices of
their scraped hands—

two bending men placing
a stone in the hollow
of two stones, one rock

on two rocks the length
of the wall—there’s strength
in movement. Lace wall

or farmers’, they leveled
with the land, building wide
as stone to stone allowed;

lace walls for hilltops,
leaving uneven spaces,
holes for the wind—

no art, just the ordinary
lifting up of what’s
deepest, stiles to climb—

chattered slate of sky
through a loose knit
of weathered stone.

Making the Rip

Wednesday, September 2, 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, he was hanging down deep . . . fourteen
tons of ice in the hold,”
hooked to stern, white marlin, tuna,

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, eggers, pulling

the traps, the good wave of Bob Flanders, the Unicorn,
Jimmy Morgan pulling in, Jonathan Mayhew smiling,
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, fishing,
reeling it in. “. . . nothing else I ever wanted to do.”

Menemsha Bight

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

To begin on the beat, at the bight, on the beat behind
the beat, the wave beneath the wave, the cormorant low
over Menemsha Sound—Quenames, the long fish, Quansoo,
the great spreading out place, Squibnocket, where the red
ground nut grows. Names of movement and places of speech
before the words, the middle line of word and work, horizon
where the water meets the pale sky and fastens our voice
to the joining and separation, reams of pressed color.
Hand to lift and the word unspoken, entries of expenses—
to wheate, to flower, to buter, to shuger, broken phrases
and sharpened tools: the chisel and slick, timber and shingle,
planks of cut nails, stone drill and wedges to split granite.
Thrill of the diving waves, full howl of the wind across Quitsa,
Stonewall, Roaring Brook, scrape of brick on the deck
of the schooner, bowsprit and mast, harpoon and ratlines,
four at the oars and fired clay to build—Mayhew, Allen, Hunt,
brown bread and black tea, wool and flax—Tilton and Thacher,
frost on the pastures in December—Basset, Higgins, Skiffe,
the first families in town, snowy egret in the scrub oak,
blossoms on the wild pear, the sweep of full tides, curve
of the dunes, lace walls and sheep stepping to the sea,
the slide of smoothed stones, hornbeam and honey locust,
glacial shove against the dark soil, decoys on the mantel,
high fires in the keeping room, hymn of the spinning wheel,
a white pony walking in snow to the swung gate.

What lines against the sky, hip on gable, the pale yellow
of the open barn, lines on the land bound by water, cadence
of waves curling in threes, formed sentence of a holly tree
in the cool fog, union of sound and shape, spliced lines
of ancient ties of work and deed, faces of men and women
joined with other men and women—I give you this land
to work, I give you this work on the land, the plough and saw,
wagon and yoke, cattle huddled in the wind, hay in the fields.
I give you this work on the water, lobster and oyster, swordfish
and striper, osprey and tern, joy of making the rip at dusk.
I give you the winding creek and high bush blueberry, beach plum
and rosa rugosa. I give you the drink of water in the morning
from Tiasquam, the trout in Pease’s Brook, Weaquabsqua,
Keepehiggon, Fulling Mill, I give you sand and clay, words
which we have not yet formed, but speak in our lives, a bow
to neighbor, extending a hand by what is left unsaid.

Metaphysics for Breakfast

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

For Steve and Linda Zidonik

Heraclitus notwithstanding, nothing changes: the greasy dishes
every morning after—first, throwing out the old grounds
on top of last night’s bottles, and rinsing the pot, washing
the glass attachments and mixing the juice, adding three cans

of cold water to Concentrate Just Like Fresh Squeezed.
Well, if you two were awake, we alternate on the infinite
I think, therefore I ams to that directive, but alone I feel
more than I am, like a waxed carton, slowly folding

inward, trying to burn. Wishing on a pilot light and clearing
the table again for further cups of coffee and eggs over,
on plates that will be stacked with yesterday’s spaghetti plates.
Radio on, the hip alternative station spinning its chummy

circle of hits—Sweetness, I was only fooling . . . and
It’s a lover’s question, when the only question is Where
is the leap in the voice, the green wave in the chest, the
music, music willing to come back for you, slide of steel—

Come in, come in, by all means come in and pull up
a chair in the flood tide kitchen. This is what a single
cedar in the fog is singing. This is what the first hint
of a full-sail orange dawn is dreaming of—music, music,

resounding across the water, lighting moonstone, lapis lazuli,
and all the other semiprecious glints on the waves. WOIC
will never save us. And soft voices will never answer
the question: it’s the impossible union who love

that will save us. Rain on the wet cement. That will save us.
The easy crack as granite splits. That will answer the question.
Or your song, as you two sleep upstairs, humming this poem,
letting me hail the wind of another winter in the city,

as it lifts light snow off the street’s one elm, and I swim out.

Proposal

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

This is just a rough estimate of what I think
I can do it for, since the apron is cracked
and I can’t tell without digging how far down
the footing goes, if there is one. Why I’ll do it
I don’t know, except I have to keep everybody
working, and though I have no interest whatsoever
in your homely problem, I’ll start the job next week,
haul away the wall, dig it out, set the forms, then
wait to pour concrete, wait for that to set up,
strip the forms, let it dry, cure the weekend,
then do one step a day for days, like painting
the wall with sky-blue Weld-Crete, then wait for that
to dry before slapping on the scratch coat,
which takes more time to make and clean up
than it does to trowel on, then wait for that to dry
before putting on two more separate coats
of stucco until we reach an inch, hoping all along
that it doesn’t freeze for two days each coat,
and you’ll be wondering what’s taking so long,
and why don’t I just finish, and it’ll look like
nothing got done anyway, and you’ll end up complaining
about a stain on the driveway, or a cracked shingle
where the mixer was within 75’ of the house,
while I wish you never called, or wish again
I’d run away from the job and all jobs like it,
because I knew from the beginning it was a losing
situation, where the bill will always be too high
(“. . . a little more than we expected . . . we talked
about.”) a little better than breaking even for me,
if you count the hours going back and forth,
or the days we’d quit early, rather than going back
to a job or starting something new: to do something
you can’t see—footings four feet down, ½” steel
in an 8” grid, all tied into the existing foundation.

And you’ll be forever finding the time to send
a check, which will include a 15% markup
on materials, which you’ll scream about, which is
supposed to cover overhead and profit in a real business,
but which is really just a way to keep my backyard
filled with chipped brick and wet bags of cement
and mortar that will tear the next time
I’m heading out to do a small job on the weekend,
while you’re placing a full drink down on the wall,
wondering still if it’s really plumb, level, and true,
while the blue pond spreads a shivery trail to the ocean.

PLEASE PAY $900.00 On Account.
“On account of what?” On account
of only money wets the mix.