Lowering his maps into irrational mouths,
offering storied lamps, winter drifts
and the massed soughing of leaves and grainstalks
to the chthonian spirit of undine and gnome,
this man, eremitic, hopeful
draws away from the cool stones of the well
and carries the water in a metal pail, full now of sunlight and clouds
up the ancient wooden stairs into the sky.
With eyes closed one can smell the brine and tar,
hear the buoy knock as it tips in the darkness,
or the demolishing wash
splaying its effervescent linen on the hard sand,
though the ocean is a hundred leagues distant;
his words are vessels to cradle the seabird’s slow staccato,
to echo the saline clap in the hollow space between hull and wharf.
High in his window he lights firebaskets to conjure the pier’s relief
and the hinterland from whence he would set out for the sea
is pieced from his memory, the quaint clapboard
shaken by leviathan storms
steadily darkening with spindrift and rain.
He wakes from the image of a child’s castle surrendering to the tide,
to his papers clacking and shuffled in nightbreezes
from his casement the moon is a half-veiled paper lantern,
the heavens filled with clouds like churning wool
and a cluster of far-off suns pour their vision
into the strange set of eyes that hide in his heart.
Stand at the base of the stairs,
you can almost hear the maps being made,
rising with their leaven of wind and fire
he rolls the inosculation of ocean and shore inside,
the topography of his life in reverse.
In the morning he will come down,
and leaning the scrolls against an old cherry tree
he’ll walk through morning into the sun-drenched day,
beneath the fruit and amidst the river grasses…
watch him from the forest’s edge return through every season,
then kneeling at the cistern, decant his cursive recollections
into the tiny liquid mirror,
offering his humanity
over and over
until the moment his memory runs dry.
(c) Seth Grube