Theodore Roethke Taking a Night Stroll on a Beach
Open-mouthed and comatose,
the anemones constellate over shallow coral,
while dock pilings and driftwood suffer
the interminable welter of waves.
I stand on the white space between
a babbling sea and an inarticulate city
waiting to be caught in a glowing dragnet
along with the lightning whelks, spears
of dropseed and tangles of kelp.
At last, the mackerel moon appears
floating belly-up in the basalt-colored sea.
Everything previously unseen
acquires the materiality of flesh or salt.
Spume like jabot on a woman's blouse
hems the shore, an army of winged fire ants
flicker in Aristotle's Lanterns. I sink my fingers
into the wet sand and feel the baby-toothed
ridges of an ancient quahog clam.
The wind is less reticent now
and the brine-stung seagrape leaves
tremble with the revelation of mortal
disorder. My thoughts grow
more undisciplined, like the dripping
of stalactites in a damp cave.
The self, like a star, is a distant sun,
an orphan to this world—bright
noctambulist that has clumsily stumbled
into this blue-green sphere. An osprey harpoons
into the waves, registering the rush of water
over wings, a small tendril thrusts its curled
green wick through a driftseed, barnacles
burrow their heads into stone, sucking
on minerals with sessile delight.
"With all of these I would be." And behind me:
black conifers extend like stanchions
holding up this night.
In this hour, the spirit receives the graces
of gravity. It rises as tides rub the faces
of saints into stone, as wind flutes
tremolos through wormholes on rocks,
as the gull rives open the soft belly
of a ghost crab. I revel in this distance
between the stars and me—intimate, sublime
like windows and angels in Giotto's frescoes.
I'd walk forever towards the nearing morning,
listening to the coquinas chime under great eyelids of waves—
Forever being a tender diminutive of night.