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Cape Breton

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?

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