Copyright © 2020 by Susan Deborah King
in loving memory, Eugene Vance
The house is blank, over days, stays mute.
It’s white face, a rebuke.
No light in the windows after dark.
The yard is bare.
I look over expecting to see his bike,
yellow with a milk crate carrier tied behind the seat,
the yard set up for croquet,
the wheelbarrow loaded with sails.
Just last year he had a new septic dug.
How can it be he’ll never see how well
the gash in the grass has healed?
The plane crashed, the one he flew himself.
My hands go to my face saying no
to those last moments.
Tall and lean, his head always thrust
ahead of the rest of him,
he was curious about us, beyond
being captivated by our lissome daughters.
He drifted over, photographed our porch flowers.
Couldn’t we trim the spirea to show more of the door?
He read my lines and understood, read again
appreciating things in them I never saw.
Anytime, use his dryer. Prune whatever
branch of his would give our garden more light.
Deeply touched by the gift of a bouquet.
Abject apologies for wanting to borrow butter.
Lastly, placed by our door, what most
would reserve wholly for themselves: a bagful of
rare and prized, hand-picked chantarelles.
I know, I know what you’ll think
if I write a paean to a hose,
and, yes, well, there’s
something of that about it,
of course. Wielding it does
give me a sense of projectile power
I don’t otherwise possess,
I’ve dug a hole
and put the nozzle on “jet”.
As I bore deeper into soft earth
to make way for beauty and growth,
I wonder, Is this how sex feels to men?
No, I’m not above those thoughts;
in fact, I subscribe to them.
But there’s more.
It’s the snake-like way
it moves, wriggling through grass,
as I pull it around the house
from the spigot to reach
the front flowers
and flip it, unkink it,
how it writes a green-on-green
cursive of loops and spirals across the lawn
in praise of all things botanical,
as I cast it aside
to tend to weeding and deadheading.
How I can bliss out
showering the bee balm and yarrow.
Watering’s a chore I rarely resist,
and the hose is so much more
than a tool –
a sort of companion
and conduit through which
passes, at my behest,
the element to life most essential.
Diana had her hounds,
Athena her owl. The hose
has got to be a modern iteration
of Demeter’s water-filled amphorae.
With it, I’m a bride of fertility
trailing a skinny green train.
“THERE’S A SWEET, SWEET SPIRIT. . .”
for Ashley Bryan
In his late eighties and he insists
after a visit on walking me
the almost mile to the dock
to see me off. Waiting
for the ferry I take a misstep
and one of my legs plunges
between two floats.
When someone else asks
if I want to get up,
I say, No. I just want to stay down
till I feel stable enough
to get to my feet.
So he, nimble as a man
decades younger, gets down
and stretches out next to me,
about a foot away.
I forget what we talked about,
but soon we were laughing.
Soon, I was up and on my way,
with a big ugly purple bruise
and a large bump on my thigh
that has never completely disappeared.
He knew he couldn’t take away the pain,
but he got down where I was.
He got down where I was
and stayed by my side
till I could stand again.
in loving memory, Charlene Allen
The moon, just rising, no longer full,
bowed its orange head, and the wind
stopped fondling the tree tops
as the ambulance/hearse, passing
the houses of those who’d gathered
earlier by her bed, bore her body to the dock.
Her going sent a tremor down the dark.
Spunky, blond, of unbuttoned lip
and sapphire eyes, she made, without a lesson,
paintings of her island, lush and vibrant.
In a voice that burbled and was breathful,
like short laps of wave over stones, she told
at the museum the island’s stories
to the visiting world. Always the last
to leave a party and the life of it,
she danced straight through her 70’s like a flame.
The stars were so sharp, they gashed
the languid summer water with her name.
So tired from a hot day doing errands,
I can barely remain upright while
waiting for the ferry on the dock.
I stare down into harbor water,
murky green as my mind feels right now.
Suddenly, just under the surface,
a school of mackerel flashes past.
Hoping for another glimpse,
I keep looking, but they don’t come back.
Not a fisher, nor much of a fish eater –
though some claim their flesh is
sweet and succulent if fried
right off the hook – I’d never
want them for dinner. But,
en masse, forming an arrow,
their sleek, silvery bodies, like strokes
of underwater moonlight, their dark,
wide open eyes, streaking by
quick as life, revive me. For that,
I’d drop my baited line.
for Jorge Fressiner
The spine of our home, it starts at the dock
and ends at a path marked No Trespass, which
everyone ignores, and that leads to a gold-
lichened outcrop, and an accessible-at-low-tide knob.
It goes past mansions and hovels, stacks
of lobster traps, truck hulks, past the post office,
the general store, Wimbleberry, the museum with
its café, the parsonage, the church, the library, the school,
past best-in-the-world views: sweeps of sea, Acadian mounds.
It’s only a little more than 2 miles long, but ultramarathoners
have back and forthed it to a fare-the-well. Old pictures
from the year our house was built show it was
barely a path and there were none of the tall spruces –
or any other trees – that line it now. Behemoth trucks
barge on empty, lumber back on it, gears wheezing,
barge off full, foundations dug. Heedless hot rods
gun 3-wheelers four times the limit to drive
their demons out. One actually more careful one
flipped himself into a ditch last week and the whole
population smarted. All day I worry my grandchildren,
absorbed in play, their eyes on the ball, will stray
in front of an innocent car. We lost a pup that way,
no one’s fault. On it, daytrippers trudge, bike or take
our long golf cart shuttle. They ogle and click away at
the quaintness, the panoramas and ask, “Where is the town?
Halfway down one side: a Black Lives Matter
banner, on the other a Confederate flag, the owner of which
crosses the road to repair the other’s pickup.
One opponent of broadband install planted his cart
in the way of the trench being dug for cable.
There was shouting; there were threats, but progress
trumped them. Crisscrossing it at mealtime, neighbors
borrow ingredients: butter, garlic, lemons; deepen
friendships, stitching the seam together. At dawn,
walking her dog, mugs in hand, my friend and I
stand pajamaed in its middle for a good talk. Rain,
when it starts, freckles the surface, then slicks it
like the trail of a snail. Snakes on it get squashed
into turquoise squiggles. How we’d all like to shoot out
the streetlight to get a better view of the stars. In the fog
it glows like a gone-by dandelion, like the moon
we can’t see in shroud. Today a young man from
south of the border, here for a brief sojourn, guitar
slung over his shoulder like a troubadour, reached back
to strum as he walked. The tune was faint, ethereal
and lightened, on this hot day, my weary steps
as I followed behind. It was almost as if the road
were humming to itself, recalling the traffic upon it,
the lives along it, the stories of the people and trees, the birds
and stones, the never-faraway sea, the ever-changing clouds.
I WISH I LIKED LOBSTER
It’s almost a crime not to,
given where I live.
But it makes me gag!
Standing on the dock
piled high with traps,
my neighbors in the boats below
loading, stacking, coiling line,
I feel like a traitor.
I respect their work,
the monumental effort it takes:
up in cold dark, chapped hands,
aching shoulders, bait stink,
hauling and dropping, middleman’s take,
upkeep, crew issues, the market,
the weather – the danger.
I love their boats’ classic shape,
the cabin upraised like the head
and neck of a floating outsized sea bird,
how it often bears the captains’
loved ones’ names. I love
the buoys bobbing in broad, bright
heraldic splendor out in the bay,
but I hate how lobster tastes, its
texture – like fishy sponge – how
to cook it you have to kill it
and watch it die; and when you eat it
what a mess it makes. It’s a monster
you have to dismember and eviscerate.
Let’s face it, a lobster looks
fearsomely weird! Whoever was first
to try it must have been starved.
And the tomalley? Green slime!
The only saving grace is the big bug’s
color after it’s boiled – like the sun
riding the horizon after a fisherman’s
long, long day. But I have to refrain
from partaking, for what kind
of solidarity would it show if
I barfed up the catch they work so hard
to bring to table? It’s a good thing
their livelihood doesn’t depend on the likes of me.
Some town officials wanted to order him
to “clean it up,” but to most of us,
Blair’s plot of ancient trucks and other
heavy equipment is a physical paean
to machinery. He takes hulks others
have given up on, and through his
unfathomable genius, makes them run.
So venerated, they take on a kind of
rusted patina, the aspect of gods.
He’s even given some of them names
like “The Happy Executioner”
and “Fat-Bottomed Girl.” With them,
despite acute, persistent back pain,
he moves earth, moves boulders, chops,
splits and chips wood, hauls and deposits,
under town contract, plows snow
from island roads, and gratis, hand-digs-out
those too old to do it themselves.
After the hurricane hit, he was the one,
at personal risk, and who knows how,
to clear paths of downed power lines.
Sturdy and square-built as a truck cab,
with piercing blue eyes, a head of hair
curly black, and possessed of a genial
temperament, he gets a kick out of
giving kids rides in his dumper.
While many other drivers won’t,
driving down island, high and slow atop
his front loader, he waves. It’s hard to imagine
that in his youth, he bulldozed onto its roof
the cabin in which his girlfriend was
carrying on with another bloke. This
is an island story often told with
an admiring smile. It was vacant
at the time and no one hurt.
He doesn’t have a head for numbers
or words – you might not always
get a bill, or get it a year later – but for gears,
axles, cylinders, valves, pistons and shocks.
Our almost new (to us) golf cart wouldn’t start.
He checked it and knew
what it needed immediately:
a solenoid (we had never before heard
of such). He fished into his supply and found
the exact one. He’s become a verb: any vehicle
needs fixing – it’s very expensive to barge it off –
get it Blaired! Without him, movement on the island,
beyond foot traffic, would grind to a halt.
It’s a mix – cicada, cricket, other locusts.
With what insistence they inveigh against
the end of flowering, their own existence!
But there is something, too, so ecstatic
about it, this protest. So sustained,
so intense. Not the relentless sirens
of my Kansas City girlhood – here in
New England, more subtle: millions
of tiny jingling bells, a wavery vibrato,
treble continuo, melding to an underpitch
for the plain song of our light-waning days
that yet drills through, unignorably,
to consciousness: To have lived!
Just to have lived!