Poetry Month: Day Fourteen

As the weather warms up in this hemisphere, lots of folks are happily soaking up the sunshine they’ve been missing and making small talk about how lovely the weather is. Here, though, as with many places affected by Sandy, the approach of summer is somewhat complicated.

In New Jersey the warmer months typically mean summer days spent on the beaches and boardwalks of the Shore by locals and Bennies alike. But with our communities–many of which depend financially as much as anything on the summer traffic–still very much in recovery, the return of ice cream men and Springsteen-heavy backyard parties to the landscape creates something of an anxiety. People have yet to get the funding to demolish their homes, let alone start to reconstruct their lives. As for the boardwalks, well, most are still unwalkable.

So here’s to the summers we’ve built our lives with so far, and those we hope to have.

The Dying of the Light

The pine barrens 50 miles south of us
kill themselves every ninety years.
The way they live--hoarding sunlight
and rain--pirating away the lesser
parts of the woods until only the fewer giants
remain, making a thinner forest.
And Father, you've done it now.
You've smoked and drank and smoked
and drank your way right into the body
you're dying in--the body that frames you
but no longer supports you. It's broken--
it's breaking you. It's full of shadows
and caves where it should be solid and overgrown
with a body's own full-rooted days.
Empty, empty--a bloated, empty shell, full
of echoes that ring "empty empty," full
of echoes whispering woods' cracked intent.
Like the pine barrens. Yes, the pine barrens.
When winter drags its calloused ass down
the bark, its fingers of ice scratching their way
behind, brittle needles fall to earth and wait
for that one leg of electric sky to tromp their thirsty bodies.
And then the flames. And then there's more
flames. And you still smoke now,
lying in this hospital room. In light
of all this, what can be said? The walls
are cleaner than your insides. You know
it's getting late. Pill to sleep. Needle to live.
Father, in every woods there runs an evil,
a Jimmy Leeds who'll stir up the ground
with whispers that become echoes in later years.
And then this: one is left lying in one's rotting,
incinerable forest. And below one's back,
every needle has a horrible secret.

-BJ Ward
The Puritan's Ballad

My love came up from Barnegat, 
The sea was in his eyes; 
He trod as softly as a cat 
And told me terrible lies. 

His hair was yellow as new-cut pine 
In shavings curled and feathered; 
I thought how silver it would shine 
By cruel winters weathered. 

But he was in his twentieth year, 
This time I'm speaking of; 
We were head over heels in love with fear 
And half a-feared of love. 

My hair was piled in a copper crown -- 
A devilish living thing -- 
And the tortoise-shell pins fell down, fell down, 
When that snake uncoiled to spring. 

His feet were used to treading a gale 
And balancing thereon; 
His face was as brown as a foreign sail 
Threadbare against the sun. 

His arms were thick as hickory logs 
Whittled to little wrists; 
Strong as the teeth of a terrier dog 
Were the fingers of his fists. 

Within his arms I feared to sink 
Where lions shook their manes, 
And dragons drawn in azure ink 
Lept quickened by his veins. 

Dreadful his strength and length of limb 
As the sea to foundering ships; 
I dipped my hands in love for him 
No deeper than the tips. 

But our palms were welded by a flame 
The moment we came to part, 
And on his knuckles I read my name 
Enscrolled with a heart. 

And something made our wills to bend, 
As wild as trees blown over; 
We were no longer friend and friend, 
But only lover and lover. 

"In seven weeks or seventy years -- 
God grant it may be sooner! -- 
I'll make a hankerchief for you 
From the sails of my captain's schooner. 

We'll wear our loves like wedding rings 
Long polished to our touch; 
We shall be busy with other things 
And they cannot bother us much. 

When you are skimming the wrinkled cream 
And your ring clinks on the pan, 
You'll say to yourself in a pensive dream, 
'How wonderful a man!' 

When I am slitting a fish's head 
And my ring clanks on the knife, 
I'll say with thanks as a prayer is said, 
'How beautiful a wife!' 

And I shall fold my decorous paws 
In velvet smooth and deep, 
Like a kitten that covers up its claws 
To sleep and sleep and sleep. 

Like a little blue pigeon you shall bow 
Your bright alarming crest; 
In the crook of my arm you'll lay your brow 
To rest and rest and rest." 

Will he never come back from Barnegat 
With thunder in his eyes, 
Treading as soft as a tiger cat, 
To tell me terrible lies?

-Elinor Wylie

One thought on “Poetry Month: Day Fourteen

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