Five Poems

Elegy: Late August, Ipswich Bay

 “Would now the wind but had a body”
      —Melville
 
Resign yourself, abandon other plans
when sailing; address distance by abandoning time.
Forget what you want to reach in order to arrive.
 
Forty years ago when he was alive,
we crossed the sound to camp here, sublime
until resigning ourselves, abandoning plans
 
when mosquitoes drove us from our tarp, the chance
to sleep to the rocking mast, its muted chime,
to forget.  What we wanted: to reach.  In order to arrive,
 
we’d tacked the estuary only to tack the sands,
walking the night, pivoting every time
we resigned ourselves to abandon our plans
 
of reaching the point, retracing our trail’s scents
of camphor, canvas, woodsmoke’s lazy climb,
forgetting what it wanted to reach in order to arrive
 
across the moon, whose light darkened our prints
with shadows enough to follow.  Comfortable with the crime
of resigning ourselves, abandoning other plans,
we forgot what we wanted: to reach in order to arrive.
 
 

To a Friend with Parkinson’s

Between us on the truck’s front seat your trumpet
jounced as we drove along the beach to fish.
You hadn’t told me the tank was almost empty.
 
Had you forgotten your pills, too?  Empty
buckets clattered in the bed, demanding fish.
Between us on the truck’s front seat, your trumpet
 
seemed an unwanted passenger.  Practicing the trumpet
was fine in traffic; here, you’d scare the fish.
Before you’d told me the tank was almost empty
 
we fished for hours, almost came up empty
handed.  But we made it home, one fish
between us, on the truck’s front seat your trumpet.
You hadn’t told me.  The tank was almost empty. 
 
 

Clandeboye Estate, County Down

The Californian cypress grows monstrous
in Irish rain.  Magnolia and pear conspire
for sun, one’s blossoms in the other’s branches,
while apples –dwarfed– are trained to follow wire,
the fruit like all that weaponry mounted on mesh.
Paddle-blades (and skis) right up there in 
among the arrows, rapiers honed fresh
for skewering, the odd Icelandic violin
which came to mind that evening in the pub,
as fingers fretted, stopped the whistles, stirred
the bodhrán’s palm-tuned skin, subtle rub
of elbows, bows’ interplay.  The world’s blur:
mace as censer, blooming fans of bayonets,
resurrected bee house, perennial graves of pets.
 
 

Shipyard Aubade

 In memory of Marcia Carlisle
Everything evicted or planning escape.
The green water antiseptic, colder now–
if that’s possible.  Without a means of getting
out there to the boat you have to swim,
 
October having culled the settlement to make
an example of the stubborn decks desecrated
by gulls’ graffiti, devastated crabs.  Always
risky to tempt this season, its barreling storms,
 
for one more shot at skirting the bay, unfurling
a sail to smother the marshes’ threats of arson,
tide nipping the lug bolts of your trailer
on the beach, smug foresight of the empty
 
moorings, pert ribbons of their little wakes,
the current you thrash against.  To let your body
pass, menhaden schooling in orderly panic
adjust the contours of their brilliant cause.
 
 

House After Children Have Left For College

 
We live in a country that has forgotten
the origins of its cuisine, have taken
for granted the delicacies and everyday
 
miracles of the put by derived from
frugality, a time of war: competing
subwoofers, tinny bathroom radio,
 
slamming closets, laughter in the dead
of night, hair dryers, water
flushed and bickering through the walls.
 
On our dresser, a canted photo
of the Pacific coast: fog, driftwood
ramparts dwarfing the crouched adolescents.
 
From where had it come that salt-whittled
lumber, featureless totems of submission,
experience? Another dynamic season,
 
most likely, borne from far
away at great expense, heaped
against the bluffs like spears at the gates
 
of a city evacuated, craving decimation.
 
 
 
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About Ralph Sneeden

Ralph Sneeden was born in Los Angeles and grew up on the North Shore of Massachusetts and Long Island. He has been teaching high school English since 1983, currently at Phillips Exeter Academy, in Exeter, New Hampshire, where he also directs the George Bennett Writer-in-Residence Fellowship. The title poem of his first book Evidence of the Journey (Harmon Blunt, 2007) received the Friends of Literature Prize from POETRY Magazine/Poetry Foundation. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The American Poetry Review, The Kenyon Review, Ploughshares, POETRY, New England Review, The New Republic, Slate, The Southern Review, TriQuarterly, Zócalo Public Square, and other magazines/journals. This summer, he’ll launch and direct the Damariscotta Lake Writers’ Conference in Nobleboro, Maine.