Willis Barnstone

Fixing the Life Watch

My cousin Harold in French-speaking Maine,
where I was born, is humped over the seat
by the store window, looking at our Seine—
the Androscoggin Falls where waters beat
on great black rocks in this Canuck town. Jacques,
Jean Pierre and dad are kids who like to cheat
the angel death by hanging from a steel track
on which the freight trains grumble overhead.
Then they dive into the foam and swim back
up to coal wagons lingering on the spread
of gleamy rails. Hal repairs the mainspring
of busted watches, loupe on his forehead,
his eye bloating the lens, his mind brimming
with semiprecious jewels and caves of pins
where only tiny tools can heal a broken wing
of steel into a singing wheel. Dad sins
with lovers. Harold turns the screws. Then dad
begins to import watches and he wins
Dora’s green heart. A lot of hearts go mad
or break; some are tossed out. I never learn
to fix a watch or heart, and while I’m sad
that Hal, my dad and Dora now sojourn
under a Seine of sullen mud, I hear
them swimming close. Always stroking, they turn,
their voices floating faces to my ear.

Wills Barnstone
Wills Barnstone is a director of From the Fishouse. He is the author of more than a dozen collections of poetry; the most recent is Life Watch (BOA Editions, 2003), in which Fixing the Life Watch appears.
Poem, copyright © Willis Barnstone, 2003
Appearing on the Fishouse with permission
Audio file, copyright © 2005, From the Fishouse