Poetry | December 01, 1998

Winner of the 1997 Editors’ Prize in Poetry.

Featuring the poems:

  • The Menemsha Bell
  • Endless Nights of Rain
  • The Weather of Heaven
  • The Red Swing
  • First Snowfall
  • Good Luck Cottages


The Menemsha Bell

Ah the world. And us here, in its winds and light,

its distances before us like kisses we wish for at sunset,


like some missed possibility, some failure to risk

ourselves, a flight from. The big world, beautiful


noon and night, moon and tides and seabreeze

which sets the Menemsha bell rocking and ringing,


its clear rich note sounding from the ocean,

from some deep blue reservoir of music.


It rings and rings and rings and I would have you

hear it, as it sounds out over harbor and boats,


over low oaks and bayberry and rosa rugosa,

over weathered houses glowing on hillsides,


the Menemsha bell our ear knows like a pulse,

blood ringing morning evening all night as we wake


and listen in the moonlit and starry dark: acute music

we can’t refuse, come so far and so far to go.


Endless Nights of Rain

Night falls and with it, rain

you hear fall and rise in pitch,

slow then harder, like someone sobbing


in a house nearby, behind the walls,

under the roof rain drums and drips from

steady as any river running over stones,


sounding out day and night, low hiss

like a fire of green wood, sap and smoke

that makes your eyes burn, tears fall,


and what is there for that but listening

for the englines of sorrow to stop

suddenly so you can hear in the distance


some metal bucket ringing as rain falls

and fills it, one bright note over and over

all night long, and the night is long,


endless, night of endless rain, endless

nights of rain, one following the other

without relief, nightfall and falling


rain upon the black roofs, deep green

leaves of trees, blue backs of birds,

land mass of America, the vast ocean—


all suffering the blessing bestowed

in the dark you pray to end and are answered—

dawn comes. But the rain, the rain goes on.


The Weather of Heaven

Cyclical, seasonal, variable

by months, weeks, days, hours,

does the weather of heaven change like here?


Who knows? Not us. It’s a question of not

knowledge, but faith. Or imagination,

a kind of faith no one believes in now.


A cold front blows in, spitting rain, sleet, snow

as the degrees drop and the leaves wither,

evergreens of heaven weathering change.


Was it heavenly hot, back in summer—

cirrus, stratus, cumulous drifting past

in black rafts or isolate in the sky?


And the wind, that comes from . . . ? And goes . . . ?

Pollen rides the air, and faint sweet odors

arrive—scent of lemon, rosemary, sage.


But to whom? If a storm broke in heaven

and no one was there—humans, animals,

the least chickadee huddled on her nest?


The whether of heaven, we here wonder

when the sun burns our world up, when floods rise

up through houses while we watch from rooftops.


And thus doubt. Even on the fairest day

a fall benevolent beyond belief,

beautiful birches, beeches, maples in flames.


The whether of heaven, the whence and where

and who under skies dawn and dusk turn red,

signal of something, ring around the moon


announcing snow tomorrow, announcing

a white world, without one track leading there

or leading back, and the skies blue, blue, blue.


The Red Swing

Now I come to that point—the cool gray day

in late summer I cease to believe the fallen

are worth saving. No longer will I search

through the windfall, turning and turning


smooth red fruit—to find the pitted side,

side the porcupine has gnawed at night,

side gone brown, soft, moist as the earth.

Early long-fallen fruit rots everywhere,


blackening, melting back into sweet soil,

above the fragrant litter fruit flies hovering,

ants and bees and wasps crawling and feeding,

breathing the almost acrid air I breathe


at night, sitting on the red swing, feeling

the apple limb above me give and rise,

give and rise, expiration and inspiration,

alternate night and day, cold stars and sun,


and nothing to do for it, nothing at all,

no saving the rest destined to fall, hanging

above in the green leaves, ground below growing

cold, ready to receive any and all our gifts.



First Snowfall

As happens, someone asked for something then

didn’t want it. Flung it aside. Or else

walked away, desire no longer the touch

once indispensable, the voice once all

one needed. As happens, something became

perfectly superfluous. Then became

something else entirely—a cardinal

in the first snowfall. Tips of grass still green,

not yet the invisible deep winter

will compose. As happens.

What orbiting!

A mother hears her baby cry, her milk

lets down like this snow, undeniable

now. Far off her exhaustion will call forth

some other cold day. The child becoming

other than the one word she hears God speak.

As happens and who is to say no? No

to whom? To what? The windchime the wind rings?

Your face I compose in the dark hours?

Flurries in the lightless night so silent

I’m astonished at dawn. And go hurry

to scatter seed and call any bird down

who’s hiding, hungry, in the snowy trees.


Good Luck Cottages

I saw them coming in, set along Rt. 6

like the others: the White Caps and Sea Song,

the Ocean Haven, Linger Longer Inn.


Nothing was open, or nearly nothing.

No one wanted to watch it snow on the ocean,

or nearly no one. I was there, and souls


enough to keep the Good Luck open.

The VACANCY sign swung in the cold wind,

glaring sunlight erasing and writing



Did they, I wondered, bring it?

Or send you away from your stay still looking?


Those who stayed—nightly, weekly, monthly—

were they like me? Miles from home

and headed, it seemed, the wrong direction?


Had they seen The Samaritans’ sign

on the Sagamore Bridge—Desperate?

and answered Yes! and turned in here?


Ten little white houses in the scrub pines,

a place to recover, a place to lay down

your bones, your full or empty heart.


Was my heart full or hollow? I wanted

to ask that all my turmoil slip away,

but who to ask for help? Samaritans?


That man jogging through the bitter cold air?

That woman laughing in a passing car?

That song on the radio made me weep.


Was that when I saw most clearly? Road blurred

and my eyes burning, a blue-gray glaze

over everything, each little cottage.


I did not know then whether to let go

or hold on, to go forward or go back.

Who was it said choice was a gift? Some gift:


life or death, neither satisfactory,

room after room, none satisfactory.

Better to have only the Good Luck open,


to let fate and the season make my choice,

to pull off that highway of salty tears

into the one place that would take me,


offering all that I really needed:

dead quiet days and nights, a bed, a view,

a little, just a little, good luck.


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