My poetry has always been like a flipped coin whose two sides are the brokenness of the world and the wholeness we yearn for in our lives. In this short sequence, those major chords are sounded again. These poems first appeared together in Country of Memory (Uccelli Press, 2004) and were subsequently included in my Selected Poems, In the Path of Lightning (Time Being Books, 2012). More poems, as well as information about me and my work, can be found at http://www.charlesfishman.com/.
Paul Granger’s Wound
You were the smallest, Paul —
the shortest, leanest, blondest, bravest
in our crew — and you have retreated less far
into darkness. I remember the day
that would etch your wound into my mind,
each catch and notch of memory glistening
with your blood. There was bright sunlight
and deep blue sky a blaze of white roses
and the dark gray haze of the new state road
the highway commission had bulldozed
into our lives.
You were wearing a round-necked
polo shirt and rolled-up jeans, a black leather belt
and high-backed sneakers. Zigzag stripes crested
on your chest in vertical waves that flowed
from neck to groin: a map of some watery terrain
no friend or parent could decipher. I remember
how the dark blue denim rippled over your thighs,
the lapping rivulets at your knees, the way
your gold-brown hair was parted.
At our water hole
between parkway and woods, your clothes dropped off
and you dove into the cold spring water all of us knew
to be sacred: a dark pool released from the dictates
of nature where we could breathe without constraint
without the harsh odor of fear stinging our nostrils.
You dove and we cheered, living for the moment
in the rare oxygen of the underlife you had plunged into
feeling again the icy waters of time wash over us.
And then you broke the spell, bursting the surface
as you held up your hand, gashed open with that raw
diagonal slash that even now, five decades later,
wildly pulses — that wound written deep in your flesh
with the jagged edge of glass from a smashed beer bottle —
your ruined hand held up for us to witness
in all its bloody splendor your wound, Paul: the sky
ripped open just when we needed it whole.
Through the Ice, 1953
in memory of Skipper Broich
I think of you now: how your short life ended,
as if on schedule. While you lived,
something invisible seemed to batter you —
a demon or force field that smashed you
against every wall. Yet it’s not the car crashes
or concussions I recall
but a scene, like a circle of ice, sawn
from the frozen past, its edges jagged, its hues,
even then, minimal, now bleached to a dwindling fire
of colors. Do you remember how you almost died
late on that winter evening? how the thin crust
of blacker ice broke under you
and you dropped in the dark so deep on your downward journey?
We’d been coasting all day on some white-dark hill
between trees that brushed our faces
and were walking quickly toward the shortcut
through the woods that lay on the bank of the lake
we trekked over like travelers in the Arctic.
In our triple-knotted boots, our wool scarves
and scuffed bomber jackets, we trudged toward home,
toward the dim light over familiar doorways
and the rich aromas of food our mothers cooked
at the first tinge of twilight. The January sun sank
in slow gradations, each slight hint of darkening a tick
on the clock of childhood. Skipper, you must have been
more hungry, more tired, or just plain younger,
and ran ahead of us to where the thin fabric of ice
ripped into sheer strips of translucent frost.
Shocked to stillness, we held back, then rushed
to where you’d vanished and then returned.
It must have been your brother who calmed you,
who begged you to settle deeper into coldness,
to trust his high and broken voice. Yes,
it must have been Dave who promised
we’d rescue you, who slid his Red Ranger sled
into that gaping hole in the universe
where it found your hands.
Two Boys at the Seashore
They live in a desert of strangeness,
step lively on a strung wire of dreams
that sways dangerously above the sea brine.
Like firewalkers, they cross where only faith
can navigate. Ignorant of lethal winds,
tsunamis; gawky, white-blond, and nearly
hairless; their boxer swim trunks
are all that distinguish them from figures
drawn in sand.
A sudden gust
off the wave crests is reason to run:
quick quick quick quick quick — sandpipers.
A shadow at the shoreline is where-to-dig:
dark, wet, gritty, yielding, without
bottom. Sand is to scatter, not to protect,
and energy is what grows luminous
on their bodies: sheen over burned skin,
aura over pallor.
They mine the beach
for treasure, move in a haze of friendship
and unknowing. Green trunks and red,
they disappear slowly, dissolve into purple
blackness, into seagrape air, at the horizon.
What is left are hieroglyphs: tracks
of sea ducks, sanderlings, oyster catchers,
plovers, phalaropes, turnstones —
Shadows caught in flight, let them be gathered
like shore birds wading tidepools of sun.
©2015 Charles Fishman