Shoreline

Frederick Pollack

1

For months now, not in dreams
(my dreams are all the usual pursuit)
but before the pills kick in,
I have been seeking the concrete-
like sand beneath successive arcs
of foam. Long-beaked long-legged birds
find dead fish, micro-crabs and safety
forever ahead of me, as if I were
the tide. The waves are moderate,
the sky a struggle with late afternoon;
the sea as empty as the land curving,
presumably, northwards. I’ve covered ground,
these nights. Familiar phrases
have disarticulated, dissipated
in my wake. (Romantic cliché.
Remarkable absence of others and social
concern. In real terms, real-world terms:
exhausted after an hour and complaining of bites.) –
Above the beach, the dunes give way
to rocky outcrops where
small prey and hunters hide,
evolve, pervade their ecological niche,
yet at my footsteps flee and twitch.
Up there, also, occasionally
some ruin – stone, and as close
as need be to the natural curve and slouch;
yet never, upon land or sea,
a plastic bottle or a scrap of paper.
(Quotation still grinds on
reliably; it isn’t exactly thought.
Even a gull’s wing or a dragonfly,
said Benn, would be too much.
A Beckett sky with Courbet passion.)
Sometimes I climb for a grander changeless
view. If it came before sleep came,
night would be stormy but the morning fair.
And oh, above that drift of salt
and iodine, the sweetness of the air!

2

Then I think, or believe I think, at the frontier
of sleep, of a shore I have always preferred, or would,
to walk, where everything I see
is seen for the first time
and every step is a small step, pompous
strut, or diffident meander
for man. And costs a lot of money,
or of some vast collective aspiration
replacing money. I look,
I turn, I scoop things up
as if in crystal, in a ritual
universally observed.
Or else (on autopilot now) alone.
So that I name weeds, waves, and stone,
their stand-ins or something completely different,
for others subsumed in me
if they exist at all.
That coast is almost featureless.
– A half-expected monolith inscribed
unreadably. Whoever made it
is gone now, hostile or benign,
and left it as an inadvertent sign
of the border, whose guards

are kindly ghosts and wave one through, if bribed.

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