By Tobi Alfier
Before the Scattering
We knew that soon we’d split apart
like the lumber we shattered and carried
up the dunes to our private place,
the sound of the ocean just over the ridge,
breeze turning to wind with the lowering sun
and our thoughts turning inward to remember.
This day’s brilliance will become the very history
of light. This evening’s laughter the very history
of probably never again. Fireshadows mottle
our faces. And the unseen tide rises and falls.
Out come the thick sweaters even with the fire’s heat.
We reminisce. We kiss. We dance.
The lovers and the never-to-be lovers—all the same
on this last night. Some of us will sleep here
spooned close to the embers, the Constellations
of Sadness and Joy whispering to us in the dark.
Some of us will be on our way—a train to catch
or other reason to avoid the morning glow
of tears we all shed in the dark. Supposedly grown,
we are like children listening for the ice cream cart
of Dreamsicles and next steps. But this night we will
always recall, no matter what happens tomorrow.
The End of Winter
We see the back of him as we watch the water.
He’s hunched over a splintered picnic table
oddly angled into a slow hill down to the road.
He wears the uniform of all retired local fishermen:
well-worn denim jacket over hand-knit sweater,
black watch cap pulled down over his ears. A ruddy,
windblown profile. We see a pencil clutched
in one hand, the other arm holds a notebook down
to keep it from gusting to the sea.
He writes his observations just as we do,
pays no attention to us or anyone else, not even
his wife hollering for him to bring in wood—
but gulls hunting low-slung fiddler crabs, a ferry
rounding a far-off point and heading toward
the harbor to disembark city day-timers aching
to quiet their minds for just a short minute,
stocks of beer for the pubs, full creels and provisions
for hotel restaurants…that he notes.
This beloved island. Where hours slip slow like seabirds
and the shore is mainly quiet. A few collectors
of beach glass, and always the sad silhouette
of one person who knew their embrace was forever—
they won’t be returning to the mainland
with the last ferry, not today, not tomorrow.
We see their hurts where a truth is buried in every scar,
the silence of their pain like a feather,
falling from a wing.
The sea tells its story in more than myths and shipwrecks,
it is mothers and sons, sons and lovers, lovers and husbands
as well as all things living or dying, or dead—
the thick kelp forest hides meteorites from heaven
and much sea life, some we can’t even describe
because we have no words for it, all preserved
in the salt of witness, stories passed down
from generations, changed very little as they go.
I catch her often on beaches that thread the coast,
always gazing seaward, lowering her head to light a smoke
even in damp winds, her collar drawn up against the cold.
The day is already etching away in shadows—
she has not found what she searches for, only gulls
crying up and down the flattened water. They carry
no answers. I’m fearful of approaching her to ask
what she seeks. She won’t find it tonight, I’m sure.
Flying clouds muscle in on the gulls, change stars
into scraps of constellations. The sky over the sea
turns tungsten-gray to blue-black. Late workers on break
congregate in the beach parking to pass a flask.
It’s time for the woman to move on to her next lookout.
I don’t know where she’s going or how she’ll get there.
May her ghosts find their sea legs and bring her peace
before the next morning breaks—my unspoken wish for her.
Calendar Girl – April
Spring is a fading map of winter.
As the sun strips ice from fields,
she exhales. It’s time to put down
her hair, put on her bracelets,
and spin and spin and spin
on the new lawn carpeting up
spiky between her toes,
and smelling like a world reborn.
It’s all about the boots and music,
Saturday night dances springing up
from here to across the border,
honky tonks, jukeboxes and radios all night,
a wealth of warmth falling on bare shoulders
all day. A balmy breeze. A hardblue sky.
Sundress stained with the beginnings of flowers
and luminous fragments of joy touch everyone.
She drinks in the colors, pure and sweet,
packs away the winter beiges and grays,
digs out her sandals, follows the sounds
of water over river stones, the rush of wings.
Calendar Girl – May
Aunt May settled herself down on a few acres
four hours and lightyears away from her family.
She woke each morning through spring’s open windows,
fingers twirling through her fine gray hair, listening
for the music deep inside while looking at the orchards
that had come to be both savior and friend.
Peaches and apricots on her tongue like her husband,
blessed be, and her companions—never introduced
as anyone’s uncle and fooling no one,
they’d last as long as a spare hair on a pillowcase
before it went into the wash. Aunt May was our real aunt.
We knew she’d grown up rough, only guessed the stories
from the awkward silences between grown-ups
if we marched in for some attention. We never got to hear
the good stuff—surrounded by a thick musk of secrets
like lovers in by-the-hour motel rooms. Not one word.
We loved Aunt May and she loved us. We hugged
her tight when we could. At the end, when the storm broke
and sunlight fell wild over everything in life and in dream,
she was our wildflower who opened private and alone.
We watch a young girl skip down to the water’s edge
as we stroll the shore, warming in the mid-morning sun.
Georgia—her parents had taken a road trip cross-country
and that’s where she was born—rubs her 34-week belly
as we talk about names. Our hope’s as full as a harvest moon
shining in a small window. Georgia had always wanted April,
May, June or July but it’s coming up on August now,
and we’d opted for surprise. So much to discuss
in this privacy with a short shelf life and many loved ones
with opinions. The sweet scent of cut grass rolls over us
from an upwind field and I kiss her hands. Her summery dress
slips down one shoulder in that way it does. Gets me every time.
Forget the walk, it’s time for wine. And juice. And the list:
no relatives still living, no first loves, second loves, any loves.
We go to the harbor, look at names stenciled on hard-working
trawlers. The light leans into afternoon. Georgia leans into me.
She draws her finger across my lifeline as we both see the right choice,
the early breeze blesses it as favorable as a soft kiss.