Oct/Nov 2007 Poetry Special Feature

The Art of the Beachcomber

by Ray Templeton

The Art of the Beachcomber

In love with the sharp light of stars,
I stumbled on a new style
of belonging: in wood,
half-carved by fingers of water,
smooth scraps of opaque glass,
bricks like sponges.

Mussel shell and oyster
were my amethyst and silver.
If I found a pearl, I'd throw it back.

I'd eat only what was cooked on fires
hearing the crawl of waves,
learned the tongue
of whelk and sprat and mackerel.

At rest, watching the birds—
impatient and numberless—
I'd track each turn and swoop,
every journey a beginning,
a spark blown to a flame.
And at night I traced the moon,
waxing with faces, names, philosophies.

Sand in my toes, blood singing in my ears,
I breathed body-sweat and pepper,
seakale and samphire.
The other ways—a box, a pen, a key—
were all forgotten.

There were hazards: moon jelly,
transparent and slippery,
arbitrary traps of colored string,
the razor shell, the sun-bleached bone
of a cuttlefish. And if avoidance
made me agile, there was no evading
premonition's weight,
in the jettison from raft and sailboat,
blank messages in every bottle.

Here is my reply,
and it's written in a billion grains
with the rough skin of my heels.


Previous Piece Next Piece