Navigation by night under no stars

We passed the New Year
being rocked
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.

first draft for a happy ending

sam's beach at westerly
if this poem
were a love song,
it’d sound like Patsy Cline

on a late night out
on the corner of Broome and Mulberry,
the streets filling up with darkness

as you wrap your arms
around my red-stilettoed silence.
its only melody would be the swell

of a gray-green Atlantic
breaking on the shores from Hatteras
to Westerly, where i wrote names

in the sand. early May was once
a time for love songs, you see, but
i have generally forgotten

how they used to go. so this poem
is just a poem, though it slips
off the tongue like quicksilver,

like that lemonade
we bought from those girls
in Gale’s Ferry, a block from where

you used to live.
this poem and i, we
can appreciate the tang

of memory, its pucker & squint,
just as we do a fear of falling, as if
we were dancers

on a pole at the top of a forty-
floor walkup with one arm flung wide.
it was a dream i had, once,

but whether the pole was hope
or doubt this poem won’t say,
so i am never sure when to let

go & have never yet
learned to whistle. much less
to sing.

on tuesday at fourteenth and v

a poet might just save your life he
nodded, knowing, the truths spit
out from wine-red lips onto the floor

like that bottle of rioja the waiter
spilt that night we sat
in the corner and heard the priest

argue for equality
of ordination; you said
it was the candlelight

on my breast that caused
the contention; i said it was just
capitalism. it was still

raining; we walked
through sad poems
to get home, umbrellaless& reciting

rosaries of glass tomorrows.
we drowned only
in standing water once.