Dona Nelson, Party on a Plain, 1988, charcoal and acrylic on canvas, 84 × 84 inches. Courtesy of Scott Hanson Gallery.

Seacoast

Beneath its cusp

poised absence of the wave’s black hollow
a lip
a gate

crucible of resemblance

shifting zero
where purposes cross

limit
threshold

every fold of the body
every fold of the day

*

What the stones have in common is the wave
wearing their differences away

it withdraws
like gravel breathing

froth is left
salt on the tongue

rocks tossed in the spray

*

Little tremors cross the water
little disturbances

a dress bellied by wind

a skin sometimes
a path of light

the sheen of it
wind-furrowed

*

Neither patient

nor impatient

ceaseless without purpose

in the storm
the tons of spray

where the water concludes

hang in the wind a moment
drop to the rock

*

It seems alive
creature not person

less time between each wave
but without climax

heedless of its own tumult

*

The gull holds to the air
the limpet the rock

we to the days

they come and go
sunlight posted on a wall

—Cassis, 1 dec. 86

 

Sundown
in memory of George Quinan

This you
this form we keep using

like a lesson
like a ghost limb

until the stone of the third person is in place

*

What is remembered

is like a furnished room
made neat in the morning

still to be used

all that life to spare
all that refraining

each in his bubble of speech

*

One evening we were walking around the campus after supper, talking, not paying much attention to where we were going, enjoying the mildness of the air and light. We came to a handball court where a freshman we knew, who later became a priest, was practicing his tennis strokes. As we passed, his ball took a wild hop and rolled across the pavement toward us. We stopped. He waited for us to return it to him. We looked at it as if we had never seen anything like it on earth. He looked at us. That ball is real, he said.

*

You don’t get any older
your stillness a marker
nail come warm from the wood

we toil at joy slow as clouds

immense

*

Loew’s theater on Seventh Avenue
where I heard Billie Holiday

and the bar behind it
where we used to meet for a drink

all that sunlight and immobility
is a great hole in earth

*

Mushmouth life
its brokenness

for all that Latin
for all that harm
a blur in the clinch

all that sadness come home to the body
all that violence

*

Five o’clock. Chrysalis. The street like opening a vein. Smell of flowers in an empty elevator. Hurrying to its event. Its quantum. All the new buildings. Along the fault. Days like radio in another room. Angels of nada. Their continuous arrival. Speechless and voluble. Aimless points of impact. Beyond all likeness. The test of summer at its heart.

*

Saint Anthony will not find your lost poems

I have your nail scissors
I have the marks you made in some books

a sentence broken off
fenced lot of untouched snow

*

Blue thistle from the roadside
lamp full of seeds

and a sheaf of lavender
to press in the hand

for the compact dark
at the edge of what we can do

*

To live high, up among the cornices, from exception to exception, hearing an earthly music. Six in the evening, August, a bar on Barrow, door open to the street, Christmas lights, a horse race on TV . . .

Poem

The world and its likeness
given at once

The world and the world

It is not a selection

Waves slap at the jetty like a dog’s cough

I turn from the sunset
and find it reflected in an idler’s dark glasses

a bauble

a rhyming

a ghost to keep off the crows

Night
world without ornament

 

Earring

Summer is a glass of water
full to the brim

The surface trembles

A few shells on the table
fragile as 78s

 

In The Elevator

creaks like a mast
her leather jacket
as her body stirs

 

Michael O’Brien is the author of Veil, Hard Rain, a poetry collection.

BOMB 27
Spring 1989
The cover of BOMB 27
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