Shipmates; An Ancient Story




for Dana Gioia


To a friendship baptized in grief, you for a son,
I for a brother, the years have been kind enough.
So many of our shipmates lost (if you’ll
allow an old-fashioned metaphor),
and so far we endure the salt in our eyes,
the bonds and bones broken and all the rest.
Most of the elders we admired are gone,
and so are some who would never know old age.
Because there are fewer left to teach us now,
we persist in careful reading of each other,
looking for lines like sunlight on a glass
of water, lines like masonry or joy.
Out of our coastal childhoods, far from power,
far too from the heritage we acquired,
different as brothers from uncommon stock,
we found ourselves hoisting the same canvas
in the same wind, and plying the same sea.
From far away, I’ll set a watch for you.

An Ancient Story

The widow like a wizened crow
tapped each night on her walking stick
into the dirt between our homes
to move the border line of stones.
She made her rocky garden grow
a rocky crop with vines as thick
as wrists jutting from her black dress,
but coveted my patch of land.
I dug my few potatoes on
the ground she wanted to possess.
When I would ask her why, her hand
took hold of mine like a pair of tongs.
If I resisted, she’d have fought.
Instead, each day I moved the stones
back where they had been before,
half afraid I might be caught.
One day she told me she was ill—
the word that meant “white blood” in Greek.
They took her to the hospital,
and for a week that line of stones
remained as it had been all night.
More widows came to guard her vines
as hard as weather, dark as blame,
and I knew then that she had died.
The widows sang a dirge of blight
and perched above her bit of land
like crows above fresh carrion,
and then one night they moved the stones.