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Delaware Poetry Review

J. Wesley Clark


Chesapeake Bay & South River--1974

Lights ashore like cinders blown along the coast.
Lights blinking their weary eyes at me. I've counted
a hundred & twenty lights, dimly shining on the violet
sands, broken & sieved by cord grass.

I swivel the bow-light across the black waters, searching
for the white froth the fish make on the surface of the bay
as they fly towards the river.

I don't try to catch the fish with the steel-lines baited
with surgical hose. I'm waiting for them to spawn.
Like me, I want them to feel safe in this place.

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They were in my class at St. Mary's School.
When the nun came into the classroom, Eddie
peed his pants & bawled. There was nothing
she could do to quiet him. A girl started
sniveling & Norbert pulled her hair. Then
she sobbed. Eddie's mother came & took
him home. Sister Christian said, "I'll see you
back tomorrow young man," to his shaking back.
"Piss before you come," Norbert whispered.

The next day Sister led him into the room
& told him to sit in front of her. He sat
& heaved up his breakfast on the desk.
Margie held her nose. "What a baby,"
Norbert exclaimed & and was told to leave
the class. We didn't miss Eddie when
the nun took him away to wash his face
& calm him down. We missed Norbert.
He spoke truth & took the blame.

Edie didn't have any friends. He sat by
himself in the schoolyard dust during
recess. Sometimes he walked down to
the bricked-in area & talked to the girls.
Most of the boys had forgotten he was
around. One day, after we'd been there
a month, Norbert picked him to play
Dodge on our side & sent him to the
middle. That's how we found out.

Eddie was an eel. He had no bones.
He wasn't fast but he could swivel
& bend away from the ball. Norbert
called him "Plastic Man" and from
then on always picked him first. Eddie
was a hero but he didn't stay at St. Mary's
long. He left after the second grade. Margie
said he was afraid of nuns. "His father
got killed in the Philippines," Norbert
told us & Norbert never lied.

Norbert left when we graduated from
eighth grade. He went to the novitiate
& studied to be a priest. My mother wrote
to me when I was in the Army to tell me,
"Eddie's in the Naval Academy following
in his father's footsteps."

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The lawn reaches out, sometimes the grass
is waist high near the oaks & along the road
to the pier standing in the obsidian water.

The boats don't stop to load cotton. Nobody
grows it anymore. Buyers brave the back roads
to buy crayfish, catfish and alligator snappers.

"Someday the bayou's going to eat these boards,"
Marcel told me when we were sitting on the pier
drinking beer.

"The bayou swallows everything the crabs don't.
Crabs get the dead fish & the drowned bodies.
They've got to gnaw & tear things."

Marcel was a naturalist & sometimes a historian.
He remembered where he'd set traps for muskrat
before the Nutria came & chased them away.

"There's Pirana living in that tar-water.
Some people say they come from fish tanks
but I think they swam up here from Brazil.

Those fish hunt in schools. If they find blood
they'll reduce anything to a skeleton in minutes.
They're like those oilmen trying to drain the Gulf."

We could drink a lot of beer while he instructed
me on men & women & fish & greed & the nature
of things.

"Some men get married and never try to dance again.
Sometimes it's good to be married but I've tried to jig
in the night. I've always liked women from other tribes.

That's why men, in the old times, were explorers
& Conquistadores & missionaries. They wanted
to find new people & conquer them . . . body & mind."

Sometimes the big turtles would come up for air
& churn up the mud in their wake across the shoals.
Sometimes an egret would get pulled under.

I'd doze off listening to him rattle about his thoughts,
his understandings & his dreams. He'd wake me up,
after awhile, knowing I never dreamed when drinking.

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About the Poet

J. Wesley Clark, an Annapolis-born poet, has been a soldier, journalist, and educator. He has published more than four hundred poems in many magazines and reviews including Bogg, Chiron Review, Gargoyle, Notus, Passager, Red Rock Review, RiverSedge and the Texas Observer. Among his books of poetry are Daughter of the South County, Asleep With Whippoorwills, and I Am Paraguay (published by Bogg Publications--a second edition will appear later this year).