Sepias of an
old winter: a man standing
full height under a berg like a grotto
deposited on the beach, behind him
the marshes a frieze of no color,
spiky with terrors, and a northwest wind
you can almost hear in the photo.
He is Herman Gill, keeper of Blue Island
Lighthouse. After months of winter,
he has logged how snowy owls
have drifted down to float criss-cross in
spook flights before the beam of his great light,
and how they refuel their yellow eyes
on the wild offspring of his children's rabbits.
All night his bachelor quarters complain
around the stove. One morning
along his beach route he came upon
a white owl untying the mysteries of a cod,
and more fish sealed in a slab of ice
nearby, like sequinned slippers.
Watched by snow, he has learned to look
about him for a pair of gold eyes,
and has minted a weather saw for his logbook:
a white owl in November
means weather you'll remember.
This morning, March 14, he wrote,
Brushing soot from the cold flue ledge, I touched
a thing so softa finch, I saw by its beak,
with feathers now gray as a catbird's
from beating long in the chimney
it had entered to get out of the wind.
It died in a blind shiver behind the stove
as I wondered was it the same bird
that beat on the light's windows,
golden in that glare one night, wings
a transparent yellow, lost, confused,
then swept away, the glass reading
twenty-seven, the windspeed fifty-four
so I thought of Cora and the children,
and our house flaked to a puzzle
by the Doane Brothers and barged
to the mainland for reassembly.
Here there are days so empty of speech
I believe I could detect the sound
light makes as it creaks around toward
equinox, even hear the pop
of Cora's daffodil leaves
taking their explosive stance about
the imminent flower.
But then I open the door to find
only wind bushing around the walls,
and one morning the passing
crew of the Hannah Rich, waving on deck
as though reprieved of mortal duty,
a joyride of breaking ice
that kept them and left for the horizon.
Brendan Galvin's 13th collection of poems, Place Keepers,
will be published by Louisiana State University Press in 2003.