Roger Mitchell

               	“I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky.”
                              			John Masefield

A few months from dying at eighty-nine, 
ankles swollen, a highball in her hand, 
Granny brought back from her twenty-something
memory, “I must go down to the seas again.”

To what the poet called “the vagrant gypsy life.”
The one where you give it all to “the mist
on the sea’s face” and “the white cloud’s flying.”
Not to laundry, the mice in the attic, and dust.

She could lift then only her drinking arm
above the shoulder, her husband dead then
twenty years, but “the gull’s way and the whale’s,” 
and a nightly old-fashioned, kept her camber.

The last time I saw her, she said goodbye 
so roundly, we could have been shipmates 
parting ways in some foreign port, she off 
to the Azores, me to the Cannibal Isles.
I managed then only a whispered goodbye. 
To a woman who grew up on a farm
in Camden County, but later found herself 
in the rollicking staves of a poem.


Two boys in leggings, the kind wrapped 
around the calves of soldiers in the first war. 
Officers had leather boots in that war,
privates and non-coms, cloth leggings instead.

Facing each other at ease in a foxhole,
their helmets on the ground beside them, one foot 
bared, its big toe stuck in the trigger guard
of the rifle each had been trained to fire,

the working ends of which rested under their chins.
They were Nisei, Japanese-American boys,
who volunteered to fight Japan, anything
to escape the relocation camp they’d been thrown into.

A photo taken on Guadalcanal in 1942
and printed (no comment) in every American paper,
which every boy in America got to stare at
and see the point of, that it wouldn’t matter  

that the mothers of these two boys might also
one day see their sons dead in a hole, 
caught going AWOL forever, squeezed 
between two world orders neither could abide. 


Nothing will survive. Nothing we know now 
or in the future, when the earth goes back 
to its elements and capacities, free 
of us and our meddling, antecedent
to our being, witness to our having been.

Still, the little waves slide up the shoreline.
They want nothing more than to come aboard,
then go back out and try again. I love
the little waves that found a way to do
the only thing they were capable of
and not have to know why or who they were
or what the point of all this is except
to fall on the sand. Then do it again.

I don’t mind that it’s cloudy today
and the wind is a little rough.
The ribs of the palm fronds tell the wind
which way to go. Over there, they say.
I can’t see where that is exactly. 
To be honest, I’d rather be here
listening to the happy clatter
the fronds make scratching the wind’s back
as it blows down the coast, boisterous, off 
to some ruckus in The Society Isles. 

               	“The large platters of this workmanship, probably due to their 
               weight, were used mostly as wall decorations.” 
                              		From a museum description

A young couple arranged against the wall.
He bends toward her, whispers something to her hair.
She smiles, but out into the room, not at him.
The three of us have snuck away briefly,
weary of the galleries, their brilliant
assertions, each of which seems to require
a complete reinvention of the world.

For the moment, I prefer this one,
the waiters cleaning up after the lunch crowd,
filling the shakers, arranging napkins.
One of them smokes while talking on the phone.
The steady splashing in the fountain
washes dust from the eyes, attention
from the tiny muscles of the brain.

Here, though, I'm reminded of the thick,
caramel-colored, earthenware platters
of William Taylor and Samuel Malkin, of Ralph Toft
and Thomas Toft, their only purpose to catch
the wash of voices in a room where people ate
and drank, laughed and cursed, as they hummed
the little tune called Happiness, or Death.

Roger Mitchell's latest book is REASON'S DREAM (Dos Madres), new and forthcoming work in Poetry 
East, Mudlark, Stand (U.K.), Two Horatio, and a poem in Zoo of The New, Ed. Dan Paterson and Nick Laird 
(Penguin, UK). He lives in Jay, NY.
previous page     contents     next page


Post a Comment

<< Home