Facing the east was the cliff
dropping sixty feet to the sea: a rock-
face frozen in the slow-motion act
of falling. A shirred schist. A Parkinson’s
of stone—sheer and delicate as a chiton
carved by a Greek.
Sweeping back from the cliff,
a slope of steep green. Empty
but for a spattering of buttercups
blowing over twelve graves, graves
not shelved straight into the hill’s diagonal
but laid parallel to it. Cellar doors
of abandoned houses: defenders of the faith
holding their tilt under the conquering weeds.
I sat with them a long time. The waves
behind me hauling their old song
of bad dreams and restlessness—
nights when the wind-tormented sea,
seasick with tiredness, flung itself
against this cliff, and how these mouths,
sworn to silence in an open rictus of bone,
were made to sing, lip-syncing the sounds
howling through the rock wall behind them.
At the bottom of the hill and facing
the graves, all that’s left or never finished
of a town—five houses and an Esso station—
making do in the perpetual shadow of the hill.
No sun, only wind sneaking in sideways
twenty-four hours a day. Salt on a wound.
Why build in the shadow of a hill
when you can build on it? What sort
of mourning denies a morning’s blessing:
lobster boats laying their traps, kittiwake
and gull? Who’s buried here,
mouthing the wind’s stutter and the sea’s
sad affliction of coming and going,
nailing those houses to their shade?
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.