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.