It’s About Time.

If Once You Have Slept On An Island by James Wyeth. Source: WikiArt

Many years ago I wrote two poems about Daylight Savings Time: one for spring and one for fall. Now with the possibility of Daylight Savings Time ending I thought about bringing them out, but they’re both fairly pessimistic—there’s something about an arbitrary time change that reminds me of mortality, like the ocean creeping up over land, so instead here are two completely different poems from the water’s edge.


It was cold then too. Fires pricked the beach like scattered

Vertebrae. The beach was longer, and extended farther out. The fires

Have been drowned. The light sweeps across clumps of black seaweed before

Turning back out to sea, blinking like a distant pulsar from

Unmappable shoals of home. Danger now is translated into tiny lights

In windowless boxes and doesn’t need ridged lenses. Cold seeps away

Color. The clams along this coast are small, gritty to the teeth; the fish

Are plain. Waves are the same color as the sponges and sea cucumbers

That are the same color as the gravel bed that anchors them. Mermaids spring

From tropical mythology; there’s no reason to drown here. Day tourists

Staying in cheaper houses down the beach come in, let their eyes climb

The black swirls to the black face of the lighthouse, think of craggy men

With gray beards and naked upper lips, get in their cars, and leave.

In a few hours their minds will be thick with island pines.

Things of the past, things of the present break down. With each

Freeze and thaw the cracks have to be repainted. The gate’s locked,

The staircase unsafe in this wind. Waves creep in. Erosion

Is inevitable. Two or three times now the lighthouse has been pulled closer

To the houses it watches over. My watch stopped. I thought it was

An hour earlier, winter an hour longer, a scrap of time taken back from

Summer. Summer will come whether the watch has stopped or not, whether

The same stream of photons rushes across the water toward emptiness

As the lighthouse stands a little farther back on the prickly grass,

Or even if it falls like a sand castle built too close to the tide. The land

Drowns at the edge, as it desires.



(from the painting If Once You Have Slept On An Island by James Wyeth)


If once you have slept on an island

You know there was no sleep there. The moon

Scooping the water was a hole

You slipped through into the waking

That whales catch in their ruffled throats

Before they surface. White gull cries

Trail along the watermark, become rooms.

Every room has no windows now,

And inside the basalt walls of landlocked

Breath, in motionless sleep, all land

Is an island, and eyes as blue as crabs

Look for the door that isn’t there.

The bedsheet crackles under your hand

With the approach of a storm,

Whirlpools working to the sky, hair

Departing, going up

To the other side of the sky where

Once you have slept on an island.

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    I can’t get enough of your poems, Chris, no matter what time it is.

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I’m so glad you enjoy my poems, and I’m happy to report I just had one accepted for publication, but that’s another story.


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