Selected Poems II


Norman Dubie



A cold wall of water, green boil
of turtle and crashing sleeves
of yellow opium and soap that strike
the skin like ice
with salts shooting a night storm under
nevertheless blue-black starry sky—

the North Atlantic clears with ledges
of sea pushing the boat again
into similes of turtle. The Indian
who carved this scene in nacre
being flayed alive by cousins,
his screams filling the lake, loons
adjusting their young in sleep, a nudging
not unlike the ocean pushing
even more turtles out beyond Nova Scotia
toward Block Island
			   and its contradictory gentle breezes...
		II. 1874

It is the reluctant winter cancellation of extremes.

In the morning
women, skirts tied in unlikely knots
up under them, squat
digging for mussels on the reeking flats...
These beaches, flat irons banging patterns of
quiet against even quieter sea.

A dog barking up the beach
has found the canvas shirt, its forearm
and shoulder of the Quaker harpooner ropecut
with the ecstatic burn that is for him
just more of a wild fanaticism of rose.

The blue complicit crabs are eating at it
while he is in an empty grave—at Boxford,
Massachusetts—the women diggers bring
his severed limb to the old parsonage—
the Baptist cleaning woman scattering them
with her black calamus broom
out of the mudroom.

It is a happy cancellation of paper stamp, purple
							      and faded with postage due. Spunk, 
medias res...
III. An Indication of the Dance -for J.T. It began this morning with a secret—like brass monkeys brought from Egypt, the moorings of the village ships in shaded harbor; the ocean struggles for balance against the rotting feldspar cliffs, above the also rotting pine wharf—fishermen planting conifers in matchwork to the sky. You lost your father, I think I did, as well, today lose mine—in a single image and its clear bath—suddenly it is meaningless to continue in manuscript: squid and gold leaf and blood's iron of cyrillic little steps in snow— a sister off the cliff weighted in her descent by a green sack of dimes, spruce-gum, barrettes and a postage stamp of cherry blossoms around the fat orange lamp-stead... it's an old pond of hebetude. Children know the thunder spills from the clouds across the water, it announces itself as salt and starlight in the simple abbreviations of a chemistry saying twice 'onions with the trout?' Time is inert, redeemable in a lightning strike not from a cloud but from the sunset, blood down the forehead like a veil or frown, the little sister balances a silver dollar on the tip of her nose, her eyes crossing focused on the moon beyond sinking in a river red with turtles, red with their stank blood. IV. Plot The secret is a melody, calamity of waters and an orange toy frigate firing on the Nazi submarine— it is a cold stormy day, the sub surfacing off Small Point. The German obsession is on the Iron Works at Bath. Fishermen and potato farmers arc welding in conflict with the pewter stars dull with snow, the great lighthouse, its horn belly-aching through a now smothering fog... V. (A one-armed Quaker whaler, amnesiac digging black potatoes from near frozen ground walks from the river Penobscot to a Manitoba winter. Slings of barley seed moving him across provinces, from maritime to mundane— he talks to the skylark about each happy new day. Remembering nothing, he remembers the pace of the plough oxen out of one summer's hunger and into a field of melons, sea snails and disgrace. The blue complicit crabs eating memory along the horizon, his sister, Ada, in the shade of the parsonage resting on a rake. VI. The sister's quilt is folds of paisley rag with tree gum and hemp. The breath of her prayers for her brother forming ice across a window pane. She delays her tears, thinking there is some mistake... VII. 1903 She thought she wore the fever's sudden chill like a wet bathing costume thrown off while running up from dunes... A brother has drowned at sea and her widower father engages a Baptist spinster who owns two steamship companies and a garnet mine at the far end of the peninsula's breach. She'll build an ice cutting house at Center Pond. The timothy bales that box the ice catch fire one dark midnight— the watchman's lantern dropped as his heart stopped even before striking the pine floor. The lantern blossoming, twice... An icehouse explodes much like a burning frigate stranded in long blue shoals... VIII. She thinks it is a kindness that her brother, Micah, missed all this misery though a ghost harvesting potatoes in the cold of the Canadian prairie. The turtle meat was carried like large tobacco leaves to a drying shed of black hickory and cedar-chop. As a girl she once said at breakfast, "There is a prune-purple night knighting us." She giggled spilling a cup of cocoa. She was taken to the distant woodbox for punishment: her older brother striking a heavy branch against the dark turquoise walls while she, with theater, screamed murder, bloody murder falsely down the hall— the father over his coffee adjusts a collar. A pastor pasturing on the high rotting shelf of the standing pantry where he was beaten himself by a grandmother dressed in ornate army belts. The storm in off the Atlantic giving her strength though she was slight and bowed with the specific melancholy of consumption, Ada said, "like a stupid trout." Her brother still smothering his physical laughter not a dying man with a cruel gout. IX. i don't know what to say... today is the anniversary of the minister's death and they are calling for prayers. they're calling for mesmerists. the sun is a pendulum, especially for the children, the sun is a pocket watch exploding on the horizon... X. 1943 Micah's oldest girl is a middle-aged riveter at the Iron Works. She is strong with a red braid coiled on the top of her head, all of it buried in a sewn metal hood. She thinks her aunt jumped into the sea because of a lover dead of smallpox. But it was the father, the father's father... butchering more than a hundred turtles in the suds of the headwaters. Childhood broken for her like champagne against the German sub, the Wolfpack's mother with a run in her black hose. Looking at the broken amber glass she shouts in French, blood on the apron. Death to all the trout! XI. He thought perhaps her family album of lurid frowning mimes, their lie alone, would bring her to a precipice of limestone warehousing fossils from two distinct mass extinctions— a leap into the other arms of a geology Darwin found while burying his dead daughter with a carved clamshell, the amulet of hopeless pilgrims—Ada felt she stood at a cliff's edge looking down at the sunset's berry hedges streaming toward the great banking jetty— men, she said, under her breath: I hate them! XII. Popham When the undertow, heavy with pepper-dulse, beside the old stone fort, drags the beach of pebbles back as if from its very groin, it sounds like the groaning of the steam carousel that makes the County Fair, at night, scary for children— the heavy-breathing giant, who would eat them, is back again this autumn. Micah's oldest daughter there saying out loud to her girlfriend: Men. Oh, not them again, Sally? XIII. Maurice Fry and his six cousins bent in yellow canvas coats test the pound net and its bright cork floats, their two faded green dories yielding to the weight of fish, their boats nearly sipping at the Atlantic— they look over their shoulders to the clamflats; Maurice jokes, breathless, thinking of his Lord and a boiling sea at Galilee. The thunderheads laughing back at them. Comes winter, a sea hunting... But they are watched by moose on the inlet's scrub, and they struggle with their backs knowing death is a watercolorist from Bath also watching them, her easel rocking a little in rising wind. And would they insist that death is a mother of beauty with her fist, all of its knuckles scraped and raw with the burn of frostbite, blisters like ripe peppers across the fisherman's palm. XIV. 1899 Ada gathering mine scrap over by the spirit ponds for making her father's lobster traps... Pots with a spiral of paraffin gut: Morse Mountain beyond in purple haze, this is a play of mind with two baked Aroostook potatoes still hot in her coat pockets. She says to her brother, "I'm going to open a daybook remembering our brother Arthur's stillbirth and how greedily he took our veiled mother Martha with him down to the dunes. I'm going to open it this moment, Micah, I swear on caesar's ghost." XV. The kerosene fires at Grange Hall, whole chicken coups like orange dice lolling down a hillside—the birds igniting against falling snow— the deacon whose cigar started the shouts and conflagration now spewing forth about the Good Book's genuine love of infernals. The smoke is a novel second growth of weather, the propane tanks like a narrowing line of mercury that blossom over the frozen marsh where the Jerusalem mule and bulkhead door dance grotesquely, a smart wharf rat stealing bait from the reddening mousetrap—a sound of branches snapping under heavy snow on a very cold and silent night. XVI. 1954 NOLI ME TANGERE. NOLI ME TANGERE. XVII. LON. 67 LAT. 42 25 27 -for my daughter your father's on board the Rebecca and Captain Hastings thinks the leakage has diminished. they tacked about, at six, the wind being S.W.: Boston. then good weather and Hastings' back for England. he passed the winter banks of Newfoundland. your father confides he can no longer write: remembers the squalls off Nantucket, a sea hen, and two gulls. yesterday, even the poor owl died.