Kingston Beach, Rhode Island

Here at the seashore they use the clouds over & over
again, like the rented animals in Aida.
In the late morning the land breeze
turns and now the extras are driving
all the white elephants the other way.
What language are the children shouting in?
He is lying on the beach listening.

The sand knocks like glass, struck by bare heels.
He tries to remember snow noise.
Would powder snow ping like that?
But you don't lie with your ear to powder snow.
Why doesn't the girl who takes care
of the children, a Yale girl without a flaw,
know the difference between lay and lie?

He tries to remember snow, his season.
The mind is in charge of things then.
Summer is for animals, the ocean is erotic,
all that openness and swaying.
Now matter how often you make love
in August you're always aware of genitalia,
your own and the half-naked others'.
Even with the gracefulest bathers
you're aware of their kinship with porpoises,
mammals disporting themselves in a blue element,
smelling slightly of fish. Porpoise Hazard
watches himself awhile, like a blue movie.

In the other hemisphere now people
are standing up, at work at their easels.
There they think about love at night
when they take off their serious clothes
and go to bed sandlessly, under blankets.

Today the children, his own among them,
are apparently shouting fluently in Portuguese,
using the colonial dialect of Brazil.
It is just as well, they have all been changed
into small shrill marginal animals,
he would not want to understand them again
until after Labor Day. He just lays there.

In the courtyard of the Brera,
the great gallery in Milan
(he isn't dropping place-names,
that's simply where it happened),
a sparrow chased a butterfly
around the sunny oblong
for what must have seemed forever
to an insect or a bird--
it was long enough for Hazard.

Above an enormous statue
of Napoleon buck-naked
they turned and wove like pilots
in a dog-fight (he was always
scared shitless in the Navy
when they had to practice dog-fights--
once he threw up in the cockpit).
This butterfly was agile,
he could really wrap it up,
turning in half the circle
of the fat city bird.
Climbing nimblier than the sparrow,
he did fishtails and chandelles,
trying to stall him out.
Over Normandy or London
or the carriers of Leyte
the insect would have won.
Like David with Goliath
(thought lightly-bibled Hazard)
the plucky lepidopteran
would slay the gross-beaked monster
with feathers sleek as Satan's
and metal eyes and claws.

But that's not how it was.
Chomp, and the greedy sparrow
was off behind a column
on the balcony above them
with the emblem of the soul.
Before his wife could lure him
inside to see the Piero
and the unique Mantegnas
(the pictures, for god's sake)
he had a fearful vision,
a memory it was, really:
in a cockpit full of chili
with cold terror in his gut
he flies round and round and round
a blue oblong in Texas
trying to escape his friend.

November 8, a cold rain. Hazard discovered
on the blacktop driveway, trying to get the McGovern-
Shriver stickers off his '65 Ford.
The one on the back bumper is already faded,
the red so bleached it could be declaring
Madly for Adlai. It's gummy, it tears.
The two on his wife's car, a new VW
kept dry in the garage, came off easily.
(In August somebody said the VW's
must be coming off the line in Stuttgart
with McGovern-Shriver stickers.
But Nader was right: in collision
with a fat American machine they're murder.
Our battlefields are accidents, too,
human errors like this late one:
we elect to murder, we murder to elect.)

Who were all those cheering on the gray glass
screen last night, loving their violent darling,
America, whom they had married to money?
He couldn't tarry at that feast--when the wine
ran out, they would change blood to money.
Even in the slanting rain, Hazard is aware
of his oilskin comfort. He is comfortably off,
a two-car man. Somewhere he has gotten out of touch.
This morning he is alone in the defoliated
landscape (oh, his family is indoors there,
snug, adapting to the political weather),
the patrol he scouted with, wiped out.
Standing now on the asphalt no-man's land,
his hands bloodied with patriotic mucilage,
he cannot shake his unpopular conviction
that his nation has bitterly misspoken itself.

Now autumn has finished scolding
with sumac, sun and jays
his heavy-lidded way,
his drinking and his balding.

Today the first snow fell.
It hung in the hollow air
making space tangible,
showing him how things are.

He watches the yellow larches
guttering on their boles
like half-extinguished torches
as the planet tilts and cools

and the laurel understory
that shields the hill from harm
--the merest rag of glory
will keep ambition warm.

Gnawed by a vision of rightness
that no one else seems to see,
what can a man do
but bear witness?

And what has he got to tell?
Only the shaped things he's seen--
a few things made by men,
a galaxy made well.

Though more of each day is dark,
though he's awkward at the job,
he squeezes paint from a tube.
Hazard is back at work.
















"Rhode Island," "Nausea," "Nixon's the One," and "Winter: He Shapes Up" reprinted from Effort at Speech: New and Selected Poems by William Meredith, published by TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press in 1997. Copyright © 1997 by William Meredith. All rights reserved; used by permission of Northwestern University Press and the author.

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