Figurehead Off the Prow

She could return to the man
who dances with praying
mantises. Or, to the water—colder

on the second day. Or,
another man

she hasn’t spoken to
in over 20 years. She sees him—does he
see her? She imagines

how she might reinvent
his gaze. How he would look

underwater when the ocean
has calmed. Or, what he’d do
if a fox started following him.

Now she doesn’t even know
which man she means.

It’s all a wild ride
that begins in a dinghy
her uncle named after her.

Weathered and Racked

Behind a picture frame, buried
in the sand beneath
handmade cedar shingle

swings, above
the dunes, floating on

the surface of a disturbingly calm
bay, I might discover
my new obsession.

Helen’s Hour

Bumping against the half century
mark, she recalls (it’s time for that—right?)
a large wooden hour

glass she used to tip. Did it really
take 60 minutes for every last grain
of sand to slip through
that mouthless bottle

neck? She imagines
her grandmother would collect
jars of sand from the rocky beach

that doubled as their waterfront
cottage’s front yard—a promenade
shrinking into a cool rippled
bay. Not a surfer’s surface. She would be

Grandma’s little helper—eager
to pick out bits of sea
glass and chipped shells

for her own bragger’s collection
to tote back to the Midwest
at summer’s end. How did she do it—get the sand
into that perfectly narrow glass

female figure? It probably wasn’t her
doing after all. But she likes to recollect
images as she pleases to pronounce:

The imagination is not dead. It’s alive
and confidently working its way
into the 21st century. And no creeping

tidal shift will wash it away. Her hands have begun
to wrinkle like that old woman’s. And she realizes
this might not be so bad after all.

East Chop

He didn’t learn
his long division
in time. She began to walk

to school when she was three. Photos
of lighthouses do not

sink. She missed
her chance to belong
to one island

when she cheated. Fell
in love

with another. Manhattan.
Strangely, it still comes as a surprise—
it is one too.

Another Siren

awakens her to stories she wishes
she didn’t have to tell, she wishes
she could tell 

apart from nightmares she rarely remembers. So afraid
of fire, she wouldn’t light a match
till the pyromania years were long 

done, till the Bunsen burner’s true blue
flame was out of her life
for good. She believes there is no such thing 

as friendly fire. In 1970, a spectacular one burned
the Caryl School to the ground. A stubborn, wind-whipped blaze
six town fire departments couldn’t slay. Falling slate, flying 

glass, then the roof caved in. That same year,
she found floral ceramic remains
scarring a sand lot with vacancy 

when she stood on the footprint of a stranger’s house
of ash a half mile up the shoreline
from her grandparents’ cottage 

before the land bends
over itself toward East Chop light.
It took years for her to bury 

the terror that fires are contagious,
that they will eventually reach the porch,
that they will erase 

the place where she lived
more consistently than any other
till she turned 12. At 26, before she began 

to smoke, she was smoked out
of another home when roofers torched
a cardinal’s nest wedged in a gutter. 

Odds are most people have a fire
story to tell. These are hers. Those,
her father for one, who saw 

the towers come scorching
down carry
the weight of surviving
wherever they choose
to live. She can’t help 

but become impatient, wanting
to sing. And this is how she becomes her own siren—
persistent and contagious, 

calling to reclaim
a loss she didn’t know
she had to lose: 

My father, my city, rescue them, rescue this,
whether or not I know what it is
that is mine, this is mine.

Civil Twilight

A thirty-minute measure
of time to get it done.
She must pave the road from town center 

to rain puddle is a swimming hole
for her imaginary neighborhood. It’s time
to get it done. Their world, her creation,
is a cul-de-sac 

of beach sand transported
by huge mechanical shovels, not
the wind.  It’s time, before
she can no longer tell the difference 

between the road and ditch,
to get it done.  Why play
out here, her mother has asked,
when the ocean is just up the path 

continuously slowly
hazarding the screened-in front
porch. But her mother just doesn’t get it.
It’s time, here in the back, to get it done. It’s not 

about match box cars with real working door hinges
and tiny treaded tires. Any doll
she owns would be out of scale.
So the people of the neighborhood are invisible, 

but no less in need
of roadways, driveways, articulated floor plans
for their homes.  From where they live, she can’t see
East Chop or West Chop Light. But she can almost hear 

the salt rumble on, miniature bay wave
tucking into itself. What gets trapped
in the air might preserve the village, or
it might rain. She doesn’t take chances—it’s time to get it done
before the bare red bulb lights up the back porch.