Mansion Beach

By Elizabeth Spires b. 1952 Elizabeth Spires
1

I count the rays of the jellyfish:
twelve in this one, like a clock to tell time by,
thirteen in the next, time gone awry.

A great wind brought them in, left them here
to die, indifferent time measured by whirling moon
and sun, by tides in perpetual fall and rise.

Englobed, transparent, they litter the beach,
creatureless creatures deprived of speech
who spawn more like themselves before they die.

I peer into each and see a faceless
red center, red spokes like a star.
They are, and are not, like what we are.


2

At noon, in the too bright light, watchful,
looking too hard, we saw the scene turn dark
and lost the children for a moment, waves

crashing around them. Shadow blended with shadow,
the sun inside a cloud, and then the children
were restored to us, our worst fears a hallucination.

All afternoon their castles, poor and proud,
rose and fell. Great civilizations were built,
came to an end, the children mighty lords, their castles

only as small as we are to the stars and starry structures.
The day was infinite for them, time stretching
to the farthest horizon, the sun their overlord.

But how to reconcile these summer days washing away
with our need to commemorate, to hold onto?
They knew. And so they sang a song tuneless and true,

admitting no fixed point, no absolute, words
overheard and blurred by great winds blowing in,
a rhyme or round for a time such as we live in:

The world is made, knocked down, and made again!


3

This is the moment of stasis: gulls stall
above the burned-out mansion on the bluff,
gone for thirty years, and cairns rise up,

stone balanced on stone. By evening, the beach
is empty, my shadow a long-legged giant leading me
past small battlements to the day’s masterpiece:

a dripping castle, all towers and crenellation,
tall as a child, made by many children, flying
three-pointed flags that wave hopefully in the wind.

Closer, I see the moat, the courtyard’s secret
pool in which, macabrely, red jellyfish float,
death and potentiality entwined forever.

A crab small as my fingernail, dead,
perfect in every detail, with hairlike spinnerets
and claws, guards the open castle door from entry

as night begins to fall and shadows dark as ink
wash in to stain the beach. Shivering, I think,
O sentry, who would enter here?


4

Traveling once, I stood under the open sky
inside a great unfinished cathedral.
Stonemasons, there for generations, clung

like ants to thin scaffolding, carving
griffins and saints, the rising spires and portals
dripping like hot wax, and birds flew

freely in and out of lacy walls, like angels
thrown down from heaven. Gaudy and grand,
it was a vision of eternal mind. Its maker,

dead for a long time, had left no finished plan,
design, but work went on, days turning
into years, the century coming to a close.

In disbelief, I touched each twisting vine
and leaf, marveling at what had been done,
and what was yet to be, and wished,

as I wish now, O let it never be complete!

Elizabeth Spires, “Mansion Beach” from Worldling. Copyright © 1995 by Elizabeth Spires. Reprinted with the permission of W.W. Norton and Company, Inc. This selection may not be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Source: Worldling (1995)

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Poet Elizabeth Spires b. 1952

Subjects Time & Brevity, Living

 Elizabeth  Spires

Biography

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 . . .

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SUBJECT Time & Brevity, Living

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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