Winter Ferry

He had been one of the old men who worked on the docks,

had a hundred stories to tell, and did,

he talked to us now amid the dry shafts of flying ice,

amid the way to go forward

and only the compass keeping steady.

He said, “What came over didn’t necessarily go back.”

Nor was it all one with him.

He sometimes told of being home,

of the Scotsman she had married

when it was too late and the accident too near,

not that they were any Tristan und Isolde,

they were both older than berries left on the trees for birds,

and she was not, as they say, “she of the white hands”,

but the color of royal.

He said, “They called her Aubergine,

she came from across another channel, not ours;

she was delicately spaced in vowel and flesh.

Already survivors of at least one blast of month-long sleet,

she cleaved to him as though forever had been found,

though he loved to tease and say he was the first

to see and love, the first to know ‘always’.”

But here again we saw land

and knew he’d warned us truly,

that what had crossed

would not, necessarily, cross back.

Too late now. For them. The usual disrepair

of some past glory brought them down together,

not just to the quiet street they knew and where they were known,

but fallen to the Dragon Pen of cliff,

to gravel the rivenning sea had not yet hobbed away.

“Their bones are still down there,” he said.

“Bright talent that other one as well. But Maestri fingers

pinched upon the atlas of an expanding world

and he’d sold himself,

got run in for a line of cocaine snort

when he’d been poised to try for more.”

He said, “Boys who saw that mountaintop cave in

turned to trees no bigger than a poplar limb.”

Gravel on a hook of land,

deserted even then of boats, a boy gone bad.

“Like a bright talent the land once was.”

And he swung the wheel hard left

to bring us back to center as the ball in a tornado

strikes past the target. “Our children froze in unearned fame,

a sling the tabloids used to bring the giants down.”

Again we sighted land, and until the clouds skewed in again

to knead us in a death-soft vise, saw land again,

land still further on, land beyond any mile,

and we knew we had no destination.

“Oh yes,” he said, “once we all had faces that were real,

but they have blurred to the discard of histories.”

And what had crossed

would necessarily not return.

The night kept coming on,

no eye could melt the layers of that rich ice,

ears drummed to accessories of black wind,

and hands betrayed our fingers as we clung.

“But then there were the pears,” he said,

“the pears and the blue, sea-washed glass.

Shall you hear this too?” His voice was light.

“That fall day three of us went down the grade,

heading for the level tracks beside the river.

We nearly passed the field, a very small bit of turf it was,

just big enough for six trees,

six pear trees. And every tree had just then dropped its fruit.”

A prolonged weeping came scudding off the bow,

when it slowed the old man was still in remembering,

“The grass was yellow with ripe fruit, unbruised, clean from rain,

not yet pocked by hornets or the southbound birds,

enough pear for a month of juice and skin, how we pressed it to our lips.

I loved that smell, not like any other:

pear, ripe for the mouth and thirsty tongue,

what I wouldn’t give to taste it now.”

A crazed howl rose from with its frost-filled ghosts,

winds bayed like trapped or abandoned beasts,

wrapped in grief that could neither save themselves

or tip us over into hell. We lost the insides of our own minds.

When the winds had cast themselves another way,

he was still in his inward pause, “So generous the way things used to come.”

He spoke as though we did not know this also.

His story now was of an island beach gone ankle-deep in sea-washed glass,

“–though blue, sea-washed glass by then was rare.

Plenty of brown glass,” he said, “yes, and clear glass, plastic of every sort.

But no longer the blue, not until that morning.

“The dead girl had been compared to the blue. After the service

we looked for a quiet walk and climbed down a nettled bank,

expecting to find a beach of Maine’s gray stone,

but found ourselves, instead, wading in sea-washed blue glass.”

He paused, conjuring, and the boat ran steady in the waves.

“It lay deep and peaceful as far as eye could find a beach,

it covered every rock, and was only a deeper blue where it found the tide.”

“We had fields of harvest then,” he said, “and our daily crossings

were only for supplies. Everything seemed normal,

as if no other way existed. Nothing seemed miraculous.”

He pulled the wheel toward the center, and then repeated to himself,

“It was all miraculous.”

Later he spoke once more, “We weren’t required to do it all at once,

just one serious gesture. We were too spoiled.”