for Merv Mecklenburg
Walking on the winter beach I meet
no one, except a few grey gulls
circling over the water. One breaks off
from the rest and plunges into the sea.
All the others follow, and soon
they’re lost to me, grey on the grey waves.
At home with what I can’t comprehend,
they float, out of sight, passing
their screechy gossip back and forth.
Arriving for the first time at the margin of the world
you must have fallen out of yourself
as you spilled from the car. This was the color
of mountains just before dawn, but bigger
than mountains, vast as all of Montana,
heaving and shivering without flowers or trees.
You learn a new way of seeing from the sea
as if the mind needs to fill that immense emptiness
with thought. What images came to you:
“Water riding upon water, rising above water.”
Was your son born then, as an idea,
around which the layers of flesh could gather?
Did you see yourself, two years later,
throwing him in the air? And hear the sound
of his laughter in the waves as you catch him again.
But that’s not what I started out to say,
or why I’m here, near evening, on the coldest day
of the year. We were talking about image
and idea, and the whole time a quiet rage
wanted to burst out of me. Are we only things
without thought, seabirds born without wings?
An image is an idea, and I came here to find one
to give you. But all I found was the sound of waves on stone,
my own small silhouette at the end of the land,
and behind me only wind-erased sand.
Ken Zimmerman 1987 previously appeared in Fireweed