The Innisfree Poetry Journal
by Eric Pankey
AS ONE SETS A FIRE
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.
VARIATION ON A PREVIOUS THEME
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.
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