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Two Poems

Tongue and Groove

Forms a lock. But how does it begin in this world? The twig
falls, snaring another, and another, a storm's blackness
gathers and sends its will scudding down and over the quiet
niches of the forest, where a nest of barky remnants
holds, waiting it seems, and is then lifted, swirled away.

Like the afterlife. We never see where they land or in what shape.
We mimic what we can. We remember. We say this way.
The shadow man's fingers feel the groove. Fits to it
a piece of firm, now barkless wood, slender and pliant,
then into it, then deeper, snugly, and carries it with him a while.

When the wall stands, ugly and crude, needing its wind-cover,
the hand, after the night with love, fashions plank and rib,
wets for entry, slides, sees this cannot be easily parted.
Long years hold up the rich color, the vein-mapping.
Some like to sand hard, thinking to get back the early patina.

My wife from the first wanted to paint it brilliant cloud white.
Such an old look, such dour faces. At last I gave in.
The paper, medium rough, slid like a small hill of gravel
loosing the smell of pine sap. I could see the shadow
felling the tree, making the rib, the lock, nailing up forever

what would soon be lost in the sailing white, layered like mist
you cannot see through. The little nail holes puttied-in,
like eyes, slab after slab shoulder to shoulder, knots where
limbs grew, room like a snow-crypt. We live here.
Still, I know stains will rise some day, the lock split apart.


The shoebox in my closet, mausoleum of frames, lens
cases, a round gold pair, antiques, templates slight as ghosts.
Wearing these, I saw George ferry in his dead father,
heart attack, so Billy, older brother, said burying the boat
needed one more. I wore them the day we rode over the bar,
George out of jail, me just barely twenty-two, the peeling
dinghy towed behind, sun a gas fire. In the V-notch prow
I felt salt crusting my face as we plowed and burst through
swells over bottom white as bed sheets, islands of green
sea plants waving in slow motion, choreography of tides
you can't see except by what they move. I saw everything
that swam and darted and burrowed there, then we curled
in a cove, its hummock cradling buried hulls canted as if
in forgiveness, ours next to be sunk. It was supposed to be
easy, we'd ram the slim twenty-footer in the narrow squinch
of shallow water between two already gutted, so far gone
thieves would find no brass screw, no wheel, no painted name.

I was supposed to putter behind, deliverer where a hole was
chopped, dinghy's once-drowned stuck throttle eased like
a latch, ferryman to those souls begot by the departed father
the soon-to-be-dead boat buoyed in and out forty-four years.
But when I pushed, it jammed, water holding on, and rust.
Gently at first, they called to me, then in hoarse commands
like those of Achilles watching the spirits of comrades fly off
in specks of blood, then George firing his old man's pistol
more or less at me. Ripping a knuckle, I snapped the petcock
off, bow lifting with a roar, the hull vaulting forward, rolled
side to side as I leaned to see tie-up stakes, glasses full of
spatter, maybe my own brains and pieces of skin, so like trash
I came finally settled all at once as if dropped from the sky,
water sloshing and chafing the way a man's terror will do.
Both brothers hopped in so the boat beat against the heaving.
"Son of bitch if I ever forgivet you!" George said. Billy glared.
I wanted to wipe my glasses but, soaked, I rode blindly in.

Today along the bar shore a cold scatter of boats, gulls high,
tacking in sun's way, cries the same as ever. Every face
follows the marsh cuts where the smell of gas mud makes
decaying is all it takes to call back a waterman's odor, salt
stink of bushels stacked, held up to the buy-man, then hot
whiskey, soft talk hours. Each splint of driftwood seems
somebody's bone floating off, in reeds the hulled, broken
gouge of handwork, wood smooth to the touch as a father's
pale brow in his box—they were supposed to hack out a hole,
two in tandem, me to ferry, but did not, unable to blink off
what happens to love. We wiped our glasses in a truck,
drank whiskey all morning, puttered back to lives on land.
Boat drifted. George died. Billy, unsleeping in a chair, rocks
watching the bar where what all's like scum in a paint can.
Years back cataract surgery for me, the smallest move of
fin or claw a ready text. Gold frames in a drawer stashed.
One lens an eye thumbed out. The other full of water shining.

Dave Smith

Hawks on Wires: Poems 2005-2010
Louisiana State University Press

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