I stayed until the sail came down
the boats all in from Wednesday
racing and this one boat
neatly tied in its slip, perhaps the last,
where all hands reached up
to receive the white canvas
and help it fold along the beam –
so much sail, some fifty feet
of white billow,
and I thought of how much of what
we do is pleasure now.
There is not a working boat left
in this town, where once
nineteen companies running whalers
lined the piers and side streets,
home to Melville and a hundred Queequegs.
We are a different harbor, still
a haven, still snug along the coast
and as good as any place to hole up,
or chatter on at openings or smile over
a meal amid the constancy of the aimless.
I miss the utility of my hands
and turn them over, back to palm
so fine lined, small and capable,
they grew up tending horses and rows
of vegetables, lining a cupboard
in the cellar with jam and peaches,
and yes, butchering things – helping
with a hen for supper or a pig in fall, sweet
as muffins they were; friends of mine.
And later, as I waited for my own children to come
rocking on my haunches in a garden of heady ripeness
the days were full of things my hands
took up and put down.
Soon daughter, and before long son, I’ll take
the warm eggs from the cradle of my skirt
and place them in your hands,
give you the key to the padlock
on the tack room door and point for you
the place in the sky where the Borealis appears.
And lastly, I’ll show you how to use
the steel that sharpens both the axe and the hoe.
PBSweeney August 2006
As We Understand It
Waves of cicada sound
rise and fall on the breeze,
like tree shamans summoning
I’ve been waiting for the sound
all summer, for the sign of the familiar
still in place, for the reassurance
even though it counts for waning
as the light fades more quickly into dark.
The world went mad again today
and nearly displaces all my gratitude.
The Brits have been arresting people since dawn
and we are alive once again with foreboding.
Bombs on planes was the idea –
earnest young men hunched over in bathrooms
mixing volatile liquids
hands shaking, deep in prayer.
Would that I could sit with these young men
and speak to them of mercy and compassion,
take them into my home, feed them
and clothe them and love them like brothers.
Give me the years taken from them
in misguidance and false teaching!
My prayers have hardly begun to ease
the pain of September 11th. After five years
I am still haunted and tremulous,
and the opening down to the subway gapes
like a waiting tomb.
Again, I am no stranger
to death, have shared a room with it,
watched it take like a greedy child.
And yes it makes me angry.
Still I am convinced that we are
on the wrong path – our shared humanity
is nowhere on the scene, and our decision
to arm ourselves to the teeth and kill them
before they kill us does nothing but
prolong the agony of our separate souls.
It is true, you may not kill me,
but neither may you kill my certainty
that the words of our prophets, our perfected ones,
hold the Truth as we commonly understand it
for thousands of years.
PBSweeney August 11, 2006
Regardless, I See You
Walking by, it was unlikely
that anyone would notice her new
copper hair cropped to her ears,
or the way her skirt unraveled
at the hem as if it were meant to
or how pale she was looking
or the disinterest in her gait
or the length of her cigarette ash
waiting for a flick.
No, she was safe – working in a salon
gave her the largesse to change her
appearance constantly. No one would
suspect the odd cycle of mutilation
or how fondly she thought of that cool tub in Munich,
full of water, swirling pink to red.
PBSweeney August 2006