we pencil into picture postcards
to send to friends
who live inland, who never visit the ocean,
seem scrawls of omission: dolphins sighted
and lost … fishermen on the jetty in yellow raincoats …
the boardwalk’s arcade of lights …
We sleep in a rented house
that offers no protection against nightmare:
the black wave high as a house
rising against us, or fog
walling us in
until, like sleepwalkers,
we break the windows with our hands
and let the night rush in to fill each room’s emptiness.
An arcade of lights …
We can go to the shooting gallery,
a Wild West Saloon, and aim for the piano player
frozen over an upright
riddled with bullet holes. Hit the spittoon,
and his head spins round
his left foot taps out time
to a fragment of honky tonk played over and over.
We can ask Sister Lisa to advise, impersonating
lives we’ve studied on the boardwalk,
gestures of boredom and desire.
She’ll open our hands like old maps,
look into our palms and lie, pretending
we’ll have many children.
We can have our picture taken by a photographer
with a trunkful of costumes. He’ll pose us,
stone-sober, in front of painted backdrops
from plays and novels: a cherry orchard,
a train station, a fin de siècle drawing room.
His old-fashioned flash
blinding us, so that we stagger
back onto the boardwalk holding each other,
unsure which way to go.
On either side of us, more mirrors
and lights, more hours to kill
until the boardwalk closes at one or two.
we’ll sleep till noon. Or maybe
I’ll wake early and quietly leave you to
walk the empty boardwalk, arms around myself,
reassured by the clarity of morning,
gulls scavenging, the smell of coffee
coming from the coffeeshop.
I’ll mail the stack of postcards
left on the nightstand, dating them
Yesterday, Today, or Tomorrow,
pencil two stick figures into your favorite view-
a curving panorama of the ocean
who wave and wave,
their backs to a breaking wave
in the split-second before it crashes around them,
the dull grey sheen of the sun
(unseen but felt) slanting even as it does now
on a jigsaw of boards and swollen pilings,
shops and tents and rides
closed tight, roped down,
covered over like expensive merchandise,
the ocean glittering as if
someone had been polishing it all night.