Seeing, in April, hostas unfurl like arias,
and tulips, white cups inscribed with licks of flame,
gaze feverish, grown almost to my waist,
and the oaks raise new leaves for benediction,
I mourn for what does not come back: the movie theater —
reels spinning out vampire bats, last trains,
the arc of Chaplin’s cane, the hidden doorways —
struck down for a fast-food store; your rangy stride;
my shawl of hair; my mother’s grand piano.
How to make it new,
how to find the gain in it? Ask the sea
at sunrise how a million sparks
can fly over dead bones.
Accabonac, Shinnecock, Peconic, Napeague,
the creek, the bay, the stream, the Sound, the sounds
of consonants, hard c’s and k’s. Atlantic,
the ocean’s surge, the clicks of waves
collapsed on rocks in corrugated waters,
the crowd circling a stranded whale
sent by the god Moshup to beach at Paumanok.
The Montauks left us names. Their successors,
Millers and Bennetts, whose names are carved
on local gravestones, rode rough tides,
strung trawl lines for cod, and even on Sundays
parked vans by the sea and gazed in fear
until commercial hauls replaced their boats.
Surfmen gave names to streets that bag the tourists
who prize their charm. I hear old sailors rage,
in many languages, against cold winds,
the light now clear, now haze: Pharaohs and Mulfords,
whalers (names unknown), hurl throaty curses
that rise with the sound of waves and with the cries
of an ice-colored gull plucking scallops in shallows.
Without a Claim
Raised like a houseplant on a windowsill
looking out on other windowsills
of a treeless block, I couldn’t take it in
when told I owned this land with oaks and maples
scattered like crowds on Sundays, and an underground
strung not with pipes but snaky roots that writhed
when my husband sank a rhododendron,
now flaunting pinks high as an attic window.
This land we call our place was never ours.
If it belonged to anyone, it was
the Montauk chief who traded it for mirrors,
knowing it wasn’t his. Not the sailors
who brought the blacksmith iron, nor the farmers
who dried salt hay, nor even the later locals,
whale hunters, the harpooner from Sumatra,
the cook from Borneo, who like my ancestors
wandered from town to port without a claim,
their names inside me though not in the registries.
No more than geese in flight, shadowing the lawn,
cries piercing wind, do we possess these fields,
given the title, never the dominion.
But here we are in April, watching earth rise
with bellflowers that toll, brawl, call, in silence;
daffodils that gleam yellow through sea haze
and cedars at sunrise asking for flame
like a cake with tiers of birthday candles.
Come visit us by shore, up a mud lane.
Duck under the elm’s branches, thick with leaves,
on land deeded to us but not to keep,
and take my hand, mine only to give
for a day that shines like corn silk in wind.
We rent, borrow, or share even our bodies,
and never own all that we know and love.
August, I walk this shore in search of wholeness
among snapped razor clams and footless quahogs.
How easily my palm cradles a moon shell
coughed up on shore. I stroke the fragments
as, last night, I stroked your arm
smelling of salt, scrubbed clean by the sea air.
Once you loped near me. Now, in my mind’s eye,
your rubbery footsoles track sand hills
the shape of waves you no longer straddle.
You inch forward, step, comma, pause,
your silences the wordless rage of pain.
But still at night our bodies merge in sleep
and fit unbroken, like the one perfect shell
I’ve never found and can only imagine —
and crack when we’re apart. I clutch the moon shell,
guardian of unknowing, chipped and silent,
until I fling it down and feel its loss.
Broken, it fit my hand and I was whole.