On the Island

By Lawrence Raab b. 1946 Lawrence Raab
After a night of wind we are surprised
by the light, how it flutters up from the back of the sea   
and leaves us at ease. We can walk along the shore
this way or that, all day. Sit in the spiky grass   
among the low whittled bushes, listening   
to crickets, to the whisk of the small waves,   
the rattling back of stones. “Observation,”
our Golden Nature Guide instructs, is the key to science.   
Look all around you. Some beaches   
may be quite barren except for things washed up.”
A buoy and a blue bottle, a lightbulb   
cloudy but unbroken. For an hour
my daughter gathers trinkets, bits of good luck.
She sings the song she’s just invented:   
Everybody knows when the old days come.   
Although it is October, today falls into the shape
of summer, that sense of languid promise   
in which we are offered another
and then another spell of flawless weather.   
It is the weather of Sundays,
the weather of memory, and I can see   
myself sitting on a porch looking   
out at water, the discreet shores   
of a lake. Three or four white pines
were enough of a mystery, how they shook   
and whispered, how at night I felt them   
leaning against my window, like the beginning
of a story in which children must walk   
deeper and deeper into a dark forest,   
and are afraid, yet calm, unaware
of the arrangements made for them to survive.
My daughter counts her shells and stones,
my wife clips bayberry from the pathway. I raise
an old pair of binoculars, follow the edge of the sky   
to the lighthouse, then down into the waves as they   
fold around rocks humped up out of the sea.   
I can turn the wheel and blur it all
into a dazzle, the pure slips and shards of light.   
“A steady push of wind,” we read in the book,   
“gives water its rolling, rising and falling motion.   
As the sea moves up and down, the wave itself   
moves forward. As it nears the shore friction   
from the bottom causes it to rise higher   
until it tips forward in an arc and breaks.”   
On the table in front of the house
is the day’s collection: sea-glass
and starfish, a pink claw, that blue bottle—
some to be taken home, arranged in a box,   
laid on a shelf, later rediscovered, later   
thrown away, casually, without regret,   
and some of it, even now, to be discarded,   
like the lesser stones, and the pale
chipped shells which are so alike
we can agree that saving one or two will be enough.

Lawrence Raab, “On the Island” from Other Children. Copyright © 1987 by Lawrence Raab. Used by permission of Carnegie Mellon University Press.

Source: Other Children (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1987)

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Poet Lawrence Raab b. 1946

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Subjects Seas, Rivers, & Streams, Nature

 Lawrence  Raab


Poet and professor Lawrence Raab was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts in 1946. He earned a BA from Middlebury College and an MA from Syracuse University and has taught at various institutions including American University, the University of Michigan, and Williams College, where is the Morris Professor of Rhetoric. Raab is the author of more than half a dozen collections of poetry, including What We Don’t Know About Each Other . . .

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Poems by Lawrence Raab

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Seas, Rivers, & Streams, Nature

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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