i.m. Paul Wood, d. 1999


             By midday, gouts of fog
                       sock in until
we almost think the weather means some harm,
the way it spills over the harbor. Gauzy,
              a trawler on its mooring
              sputters close to home.
                        A level calm.
Seams smoothed, the clouded archway shadowless:
our view lacks eye-holds, like the papered set
              of a photo shoot, merely
                        figure and ground. 

             This morning, as we slept,
                        his boat was found
grinding in circles somewhere near the reach.
A fisherman came on it stymied there,
              recrossing in the spume
              of its own wake, its wheelhouse
                        ghostly, its course
a ring by Titian charcoaled in the sea.
We knew his name. And when it made the news
              the dust of pickups rose
                        to clog the road:

              men set out dragging rigs
                        that yesterday
had yanked up heavy, bruised with mussel shells,
Phoenician purples clustered in a fist.
              Today, they’re hoisted limp—
              a heartache and relief.
                        One snarled clue:
some fouled line sliced from a sinking trap.
Had it jerked him in a whip-crack overboard,
              strength sapped as he flailed
                        to loose his boat?

              Now shoals of mackerel lash
                        in running shallows,
each silver leap skyward through glass survived.
Down on the point, a few last headlights glare,
              then swing wide, then go.
              I have come to the shore
                        to clean a pail,
while you close out the damp in half-lit rooms.
A year ago, we married near this spot,
              where four white pine trees stare
                        over the bay. 

              All week, his wife can watch
                        hope’s half-life split
daily until the hour she knows he’s gone.
But for now: she looks on as he swims
              ashore—“he’s strong, you know?”—
              chokes breath on sand … No sign.
                        Word goes round,
as stories of near-misses start in town:
“Remember in the south, that killing gale?
              After a second night,
                        with the helm

              an icy sledgehammer
                        whanging my ribs,
I leaned down to your mother, who for days
could not look at the waves as high as roofs.
              ‘We’ll die out here,’ I told her,
              letting the tiller go;
                        ‘I’m so damn tired … ’
The wind was through with us two hours later.
Half-sunk, we made land under perfect skies,
              boys out hauling nets
                        struck by the sun.”

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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 18 Number 8, on page 36
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