I know little about Rosanna Warren, but I’ve loved “The Cormorant” since reading it in The Best of the Best American Poetry twenty years ago.
Up through the buttercup meadow the children lead
their father. Behind them, gloom
of spruce and fir, thicket through which they pried
into the golden ruckus of the field, toward home:
this rented house where I wait for their return
and believe the scene eternal. They have been out
studying the economy of the sea. They trudged to earn
sand-dollars, crab claws, whelk shells, the huge debt
repaid in smithereens along the shore:
ocean, old blowhard, wheezing in the give
and take, gulls grieving the shattered store.
It is your death I can’t believe,
last night, inland, away from us, beyond
these drawling compensations of the moon.
If there’s an exchange for you, some kind of bond,
it’s past negotiation. You died alone.
Across my desk wash memories of ways
I’ve tried to hold you: that poem of years ago
starring you in your mater dolorosa phase;
or my Sunday picnic sketch in which the show
is stolen by your poised, patrician foot
above whose nakedness the party floats.
No one can hold you now. The point is moot.
I see you standing, marshalling your boats
of gravy, chutney, cranberry, at your vast
harboring Thanksgiving table, fork held aloft
while you survey the victualling of your coast.
We children surged around you, and you laughed.
Downstairs, the screen door slams, and slams me back
into the present, which you do not share.
Our children tumble in, they shake the pack
of sea-treasures out on table, floor, and chair.
But now we tune our clamor to your quiet.
The deacon spruces keep the darkest note
though hawkweed tease us with its saffron riot.
There are some wrecks from which no loose planks float,
nothing the sea gives back. I walked alone
on the beach this morning, watching a cormorant
skid, thudding, into water. It dove down
into that shuddering darkness where we can’t
breathe. Impossibly long. Nothing to see.
Nothing but troughs and swell
over and over hollowing out the sea.
And, beyond the cove, the channel bells.
It’s gonna be May!