We passed the New Year
on open water by the warm thrum
of the ferry engine, one
of two couples on board
counting down seconds
by cellphone glow,
wondering what it presaged
to tick over a year with no earth
beneath our feet, the ink
of possibility all around us.
An hour earlier, the ferry we should have caught
had t-boned a commercial fishing vessel.
Coast guard called and all.
Never heard a word about victims,
or survivors, though we scanned
the dark for a trace of leftover sirens,
grateful for the lone flash
of the Hatteras light’s bright pulse
on the horizon of our retinas.
Next morning some miles north,
in the shadow of the tower
and the keeper’s old quarters, just
where the waves kiss the sand, leaving
white tide marks like lipstick
stains on the drizzled shore, a shark
with skin the color of dirty snow
lay floundering, line’s cruel end
sunk deep in the cartilage of its palate.
It had been a battle of hours,
up and down the beach, a pair
of fishermen taking turns at a reel
pulled taut over slate gray,
two against one until the fish,
exhausted, heaved up under open air.
How the crowds came running—
a four-foot white
could chew off a child’s leg,
after all—the fishermen whooping
and shoulder-slapping. They’ll throw it back,
you said, as we walked away, into the mists,
inconsequential as the rain; just
another ship passing
in the night, turning
away from another little tragedy,
the saddest thing I had ever seen.
There is a little, rhythmic lapping
against the inches of shore long
after the speedboats & skiers have passed,
not wake, but the ghosts of waves,
fading into the silence of water grasses.
I watch the Rappahannock become again glass
under flecked canopy of cloud, but do not see
the two osprey, hunched away
in their aerie offshore nest
from their dead netted brother.
Swung decayingly in the cruel July breeze,
he is just one too many, for all of us.
The knife-cries of the young
hunger for other sustenance, want
to swallow the wild wetness of life
whole. The river creeps in, indomitable,
filling our shadows with the vivid sun
of summergreen, as far as the eye can see.
The birds take flight, and there is no lament
in the urge of their feathers. Pulling back
the beachtowel from the water’s reach,
I think, too, we all should rise
up, and be further from death than that.
The roar of the rapids as loud as the drizzle is soft.
Wanderers in slickers flick past,
fingers numb, barely looking.
Oh but you can see them,
the Great Blues, hopping
lonesomely from stone to stone
amid the rush of white water,
nests cold and dizzying and far.
Overhead, there is no rumble.
The tracks stand sad sentinel, drip
down to the worn pages
where Walt marks his yawp,
there, under the trestles,
above the river and the wastewater and the burnt-
out campfires, unrivaled in the rain.