Whatever is the opposite of keening, that is the sound
the waves make, trawling themselves across the long
shallow shore in Ogunquit, Maine: home, in another
century, to fishermen who built a tidewater basin,
furrowing the soft marshland, digging a channel
to give safe harbor to boats named “Susan Bee,”
“Clementine,” and “Anna Mae.” In time, shucking
shacks and sturdy docks sprung up in Perkins Cove,
with a drawbridge and coils of hemp rope weathered
like hands scored by clam knives and raw mornings
that redden the nose faster than whiskey or a woman
in heat. Fishermen, you imagine, lived by tides,
their ancient faces buffeted like driftwood cast
on the beach by the last spasm of storm.
Painters arrived later, drawn by the ubiquity of light,
the changeling shore, these clapboard houses jutting
like defiant chins from the bluffs, each built like
an axiom from Emerson: self-trust; innate spark;
nature’s mirror of soul; each man a forgivable god.
Here, against the ocean’s sotto voce, a gravelly drawl
like the history of smokes in a lounge singer’s voice
urgent in its surges, slow in the pleasure of its retreat.
Here, overlooking a saltwater strand as if it were your
birth canal, the history of your angst and wailed arrival.
Here, alongside white sand and dark wet rocks that cover
it, lovingly, lending land some provisional protection:
solidity against the inquest of water, which is a version
of time, and warmth, though it be from stones.
Here, in a cliff-side cottage, you discover your lover’s
unfathomably delicate ear, curved softly as a conch shell,
and the hewn channel of his pelvic girdle, its melding
of smooth muscle and bone almost feminine in its line,
though it hinges a man in his centaur existence half
above, half below a navel that buttoned him, once,
to the first woman to offer him hospitality, the care
of her body. That day, you found little to say, little
to squander in speech. For the first time, when you fell
back, sated, you didn’t need to ask what he was thinking,
you didn’t ransack the shelves for some abiding crumb
to feed a lingering hunger; you had, for once, satisfied
what took you past girlhood’s parish and garden gate,
granting exile permission and village, citizen and state.
“Shorelines” first appeared in Crosswinds Poetry Journal, Volume III, 2018.