Whose Hope Lies in the Ocean by Zachary Bos
‘Gradually the year drew to its close…’ (trans. Keene)
WE DISEMBARKED AT THE SUBWAY stop closest to the beach. Like ritualists we walked from the underground station into the open air, into the winter seaside sunshine, passing from unimpressive afterlife into the waking world, from tomb to lambent promenade. I said this aloud and you laughed, warding off with a playful swat my pretentious patter: Devil, get thee from me. Arms round waists we walked from subterranean dark to seafoam and bladderwrack, to the boardwalk bleached in light thin in this season, like oil paint cut with naphtha to serous translucency. Hands in each other’s back pockets, pretending there was something greater before us than my betrayal and your rage. Seeing you with the last shreds of petal-colored sunset glowing through your hair, your sloe-stain lip shade, some feeling shuddering in the recesses of my heart.
WE SHIVERED IN THE WIND whose wide mouth blew over the flat water and through the two of us standing there while the waves spit salt upon us, while we walked along the grey strand and flirted and idled, exiles from life for an afternoon. What romantics we are, I said. Your reply was torn away by the wind, but not the quirk of your mouth as you said what went unheard, the kink in the fierce strip of poppy red. Painted on, of course; beauty is something someone bestows on you, you’d said or quoted, but a girl who’s smart won’t make it hard. In the early evening dark, the lights of oncoming planes lining up like round pearls string on a cord, or like notes climbing down a musical staff—ta, lam, sad, fa, mim, ra, dal. Planes carrying people away from Boston roared up and away from us. We wouldn’t have much time before it got too cold to bear or too dark to see.
WE COMBED TWILIGHT FOR TREASURES. I pointed out a lonely sandal half-buried in the flotsam at the tideline. You laughed when I asked: Did they have socks on the ark? Sure, I said: Pairs of them. Your mouth opened widest when you laughed, your tongue waggling like a living clam when it opens its shell and contemns the shrieking gulls, you can’t have me, you can’t get me. A dance called the solmizated shimmy, defiant protest gesture of the bivalves. You never were one of those oyster women, champing and slobbering on a piece of grit until it pearls over. You laughed and I gleaned. When I stopped to pick through the sea trash, thinking to take away an unbroken jingle shell, you forbid me to remove it: people who take shells are vandals, you said. There are laws, or should be. Thou hadst lived still in my sighs, I read somewhere. Me on my knees, you standing, declaiming.
WE TOOK OFF OUR SHOES and watched the planes switch places at the airport across the water. I recalled aloud when once you took my pants off the floor and wore one leg as a skirt, your waist smaller around than a priest’s neck. That waist you wrapped always in vintage fabrics; the coats and capes you wore, with fur collars, a lady’s wardrobe. Your beating marble heart, your marmoreal manner, maja del tarot, maja desnuda. In the murmur of the combers, we heard all sorts of promises and warnings. I thought at the time I was in the early stages of some attractive kind of madness, hearing these things, seeing fragments written on every surface, seeing pure shapes beneath the arrangement of every group of objects. Lines connecting the spots on my skin, inviting you to trace them: leopard, you murmured, comforting. The dark unfurled, a round moon regnant.
WHAT EARRINGS WERE YOU WEARING when we walked on the beach that once? Ebony, mother of pearl and fire? Which zodiac sign did you wear, chimera-tamer? If you are hungry go and catch a conger; what fish is larger than the whale or longer. I say these things and don’t expect anything to come of them, being too proud to ask you to take silly questions seriously. I adorn myself in self- confidence, sing the rhythm of the waves, our paddles keen and bright, flashing like silver, and you say nothing, hug legs to your chest, rock against me. When your necklace broke, several pearls lost themselves in the beach grass. These grew with no hand to check their progress, and grow their still, practically native, rearing to monster height without a bloom. No one owns them except the earth, by claim of finders-keepers. Si tu m’apprivoises, nous aurons besoin l’un de l’autre.
YOU ARE TO ME UNIQUE in all the world. It was easy to believe then that the spontaneous questions were as important as the ones worked out in advance. (“If you wanted to send a Christmas card to a turtle, what address would you use?” La Casa de las Tortugas, Départment T.) Were there parasites on the ark? Sure there were, you’d said, two of each kind, and pairs of radiators, and pairs of jars of jam. Funny queen of night-blooming Eros. Funny muse of hedonic errors. The waves speak your names—sueño de sirenas, queen of teeth, all the others—in their language of ebb and flow. A world of paper, and a sea of ink would scarce suffice to hold them all I think. The sound of a piece of paper scraping along the one beneath it as it is turned over is the sound of the sand skittering back into place when a wave recedes and leaves its shining trail of foam.
WE JOIN INVISIBLE IN LAUGHTER. Funny punner, mujer pajaro. Muse of the dilemma of desire—to want is not to have; to have is to be free from want. As autumn goes he spares neither lily nor rayonnant rose. Time shall spoil and scatter shred by shred the clothes you wore and ruin the pages you wrote. Hope’s eye is fixed upon a star above the polar fire as far as thou art sunk into dismay. Where has she gone that can thither steer the way? Far from here and then, swallowed by the winds’ wide mouth, the waves’. What do we? We must haste to the shore. The winds do rise, the waves begin to roar; enough of roaming on the foaming main. We can let our voices quaver when we have reason to, when cuttlefish march out of the sea to conquer us. We don’t deserve less. Let the ether tame us to sleep. Let all who prate of beauty hold their peace. In the city glare the stars we see are rare.
WEE WISE OCTOPI ARE READING our ephemera and private messages, from their mudstone terminals patched in to undersea cables crisscrossing the seafloor between every major city. They comb through our accounts, laughing—see the bubbles breaking the surface?—at our infidelities and perversions, and sharpen their polytropos pikes. We don’t deserve more. We walked on. When was it, our walk? Near the city but not in it. Near the water, but not in it, nor to it. Along it, skirting the scalloped margin of salt and sand. It was a night for hypotheses, for futures framed in ‘if’ and in ‘if only’. If a king offered you a golden cup and a ruby bowl for a single night of love, you could only refuse: “Rather would I sleep with a servant, who is at least a comely man.” Opposites attract, therefore you are a mistress. Who misses you? Embraces or defaces you, confused memory?
WORRIED GEESE GABBLE AND HISS. My defects attracted your virtues but could not be touched by them. We grope on the intricacies. You sat on the sand occupying a space whose center was in my chest or loin and whose circumference of anguish encompassed acres of my life. Let no one unlearned in geometry enter here to comb your hair; Euclid alone has looked on beauty bare. Let me crown you with a branch of star-leaved gumtree, carved into a thorny wreath. The only ornament for you, you’d say, or said; better than any branch of monkey-puzzle, than any stem of ebony or coral or star-gazing lily. You’d wear it on all occasions, heedless of the thousand natural shocks costume is heir to. I come to in the moment. When I stoop in sudden surprise and run you clumsily into the dark water, I expect the ocean to be grateful, to be glad, but the facts of the matter intervene:
you pushed me away:
unlaughing, like we’d never
held each other close
Zachary Bos is the Publisher of Boston-based Pen & Anvil Press. His writing has appeared in publications including Clarion, The Christian Science Monitor, Bellevue Literary Review, Literary Imagination, and Found Poetry Review. Growing out of an interest in nature poetry, plein air writing, and humanism, his recent work is focused on the development of a poetics of secular wonder. In April 2015, he was awarded first place in the Boston University Religion and the Arts Initiative Poetry Competition.