Ocean City: Early March

By Elizabeth Spires b. 1952 Elizabeth Spires
Along Ocean Highway, apartments rise up
to ten and twenty stories,
white, hallucinatory, defying the shifting sand,
the storm moving in off the Atlantic
that drives the rain, needlelike,
across the windshield so that we can’t see,
so that we stop in Ocean City to wait the storm out
at the Dutch, the only bar on the boardwalk
open this time of year, all the concessions
boarded up, weather-beaten, closed against the season.

Last summer in violet light, kites
spiraled downward in loops, then up,
dragons and birds flying high above the boardwalk.
Ocean City. Haven of the lost and aimless,
with a ten-foot sand sculpture of Christ
illuminated by neon lights.
People on their way to Ripley’s BELIEVE IT OR NOT
looked on in apathy, then wandered off,
their children begging for another ride
on the Avalanche or Safari.
Out, far out, at the end of a pier,
silhouetted against gray sky, gray water,
Morbid Manor rose up, Gothic and dreamy,
as children ran screaming from the exit door
chased by a ghost with a chain saw.
One child ignored it all; she lay with her face
pressed close to a knothole in the pier,
looking down, down, to the boiling black water.
“What do you see?” I asked,
but she didn’t move or answer me.

Long, narrow, and dark,
the Dutch, with its shifting clientele—
from summer weekend pickups to Ocean City regulars—
allows for strangers. We order Irish coffee,
then two more, and use our change to play an arcade game.
Aliens, half an inch high, in green armor,
drop out of a glowing sky and quickly multiply.
Our backs to the storm, we play out
old anxieties, losing each game to time and starting over:
we must save what’s being threatened and not ask why.

Elizabeth Spires, “Ocean City: Early March” from Swan's Island (Pittsburgh: Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1997). Copyright © 1985 by Elizabeth Spires. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

Source: Swan's Island (Holt Rinehart & Winston, 1997)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Elizabeth Spires b. 1952

Subjects Nature, Seas, Rivers, & Streams

 Elizabeth  Spires


A critically acclaimed poet and children's book author, Elizabeth Spires lives and works in Baltimore, Maryland. In Poetry, John Taylor cited the author for her "subtle, crystal-clear poetry . . . that is constantly philosophically suggestive, while never becoming pretentious or belaboring." Spires won a 1996 Whiting Award for her volume Worldling and has been praised for her poems that use quotidian moments to ruminate upon . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Nature, Seas, Rivers, & Streams

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.