Eric Pankey


There are other ways in:
A path hacked through the reeds,

A storm-loosed boardwalk
Between pavement and beach,

Or even around the rebuilt mansions
There on the headland,

Although that is the long way,
And there one feels like a trespasser

And perhaps is in the eyes of the owners
Who come a few weekends each year

More to get away than locate
Themselves here amid the sulfur tide-stink,

The plaint of the fish hawk,
Firecrackers and bottle rockets.

I begrudge them nothing
Beyond a right of way, access

To the edge where the tide creek
Runs fast, a cut length of silk

Still dry the moment before it sinks,
The curve of sand bank, mud bank,

The shallow's stipple of glisters
At low tide into the Atlantic.

At high tide, the marsh is a lagoon,
A disc of backwash,

Water like a held breath.
Dunes shift, diminish, shift and stay.

I walk and a minute strays into an hour,
The hours into the algorithms of chance.

Each day is rough cut from the last,
Eased into place with the work of ramps

And gravity: the ongoing going on.
I set out as one sets a fire,

Fire being its own motive.
Tankers slip into an amalgam of murk.

The gulls and crabs contend with the grisly.
The shapeless water shapes the coast.


All one summer I hung sheet rock, breathed gypsum,
Moved as a worn-out ghost of sweat and chalk
Bound to gravity. When I snapped a plumb line

The ideal, however temporary, left its mark:
Blue, deft, spare, and, of course, easily smudged.
My days were a calibration of work and sleep,

Folding money I had no time to spend or waste.
But once the plumb line is gone, the particular blurs.
Days maroon in the general: days like other days,

A passage one has crossed like a dream and forgets.
Thirty years ago I knew the precise weight
Of the hammer, the taste of the nail on my tongue,

And now that whole summer is a day at most,
Eight hours of hard work, hardly worth remembering.


If there were a sill,
You'd set a pear upon it.
Upright on its bottom,

Its green more russet
Than green, a stem
Pointing north of true north.

If there were a pear,
You'd build a house,
A kitchen sill, an hour

When the pear eclipsed
The sun, the low-hung moon.
North of true north

It's hard to find a pear,
Or even lumber
With which to build

A sill in a house
On which you might set
A pear if you had one.

You might imagine
A house's shelter
Is preferable to a pear,

But now your mind
Is aligned with the pear,
And the house dissolves

Into a frame, a focus
On the pear's blurred outline
No squinting will resolve.

Negation is not self-sufficient,
Yet by subtracting
The kitchen window,

Bright, almost too bright,
Surrounds the shrugged
Sob of the pear.

You could spend your whole life
Naming what is not there,
A retinue of misgivings,

For example, or
The makeshift mortar of minutes,
Or a riddle's solution

Held in solution,
But it is the here and not-here
Of the pear and sill,

More presence than absence
(If nowhere else but in your mind.)
The dust on the sill glows.

The pear, almost too ripe,
Gives a little under your touch.
You can't imagine the taste.

Eric Pankey
Eric Pankey is the author of seven collections of poetry, the most recent of which are CENOTAPH, ORACLE FIGURES, and RELIQUARIES. His work has been supported by fellowships from the Ingram Merrill Foundation, The National Endowment for the Arts, and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. He teaches in the MFA program at George Mason University.



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