for Gregory Dowling

Once I saw Black Angus in a pasture upstate
                          move like this, or on men’s shoulders a coffin,
jostling slightly, angular and deliberate,
                          unimpeded through the bitter green:

a gondola, warping through the salt emerald
                         and S-curve of the Grand Canal
obscure in its purpose, its draft lopsided,
                        moving by contraries, its carved oarlock a bole

for baleful owls to nest in, sex and death
                       surefooted amid the gentle slap and swelling,
behind a mask half-constraint, half-release, with
                       a button sewn on, past the lace and gilding,

to take in the mouth and so prevent speech,
                      pill of oblivion and the river to cross
—for these commuters on their zigzag reach
                     who feel the ferry’s trembling reverse,

the furious churning, the hawser deftly tossed
                      around a bollard, boom of steel on steel
and snapping taut, making a puff of hemp dust
                      that gradually sifts down on the gunwale,

that sags, then shudders, expressing water.
                      The green widens; the ferry is away.
I scoop some up in my palm to remember,
                      custodian of love’s catastrophe.

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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 35 Number 2, on page 29
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