Water Island

By Howard Moss 1922–1987 Howard Moss

                                         To the memory of a friend,
                                         drowned off Water Island, April, 1960

Finally, from your house, there is no view;
The bay’s blind mirror shattered over you
And Patchogue took your body like a log
The wind rolled up to shore. The senseless drowned
Have faces nobody would care to see,
But water loves those gradual erasures
Of flesh and shoreline, greenery and glass,
And you belonged to water, it to you,
Having built, on a hillock, above the bay,
Your house, the bay giving you reason to,
Where now, if seasons still are running straight,
The horseshoe crabs clank armor night and day,
Their couplings far more ancient than the eyes
That watched them from your porch. I saw one once
Whose back was a history of how we live;
Grown onto every inch of plate, except
Where the hinges let it move, were living things,
Barnacles, mussels, water weeds—and one
Blue bit of polished glass, glued there by time:
The origins of art. It carried them
With pride, it seemed, as if endurance only
Matters in the end. Or so I thought.

Skimming traffic lights, starboard and port,
Steer through planted poles that mark the way,
And other lights, across the bay, faint stars
Lining the border of Long Island’s shore,
Come on at night, they still come on at night,
Though who can see them now I do not know.
Wild roses, at your back porch, break their blood,
And bud to test surprises of sea air,
And the birds fly over, gliding down to feed
At the two feeding stations you set out with seed,
Or splash themselves in a big bowl of rain
You used to fill with water. Going across
That night, too fast, too dark, no one will know,
Maybe you heard, the last you’ll ever hear,
The cry of the savage and endemic gull
Which shakes the blood and always brings to mind
The thought that death, the scavenger, is blind,
Blunders and is stupid, and the end
Comes with ironies so fine the seed
Falters in the marsh and the heron stops
Hunting in the weeds below your landing stairs,
Standing in a stillness that now is yours.

Howard Moss, “Water Island” from New Selected Poems, published by Atheneum. Copyright © 1985 by Howard Moss. Reprinted by permission of Estate of Howard Moss.

Source: New Selected Poems (Atheneum Publishers, 1985)

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Poet Howard Moss 1922–1987

Subjects Living, Death, Relationships, Friends & Enemies, Nature, Seas, Rivers, & Streams, The Body

Poetic Terms Elegy, Free Verse

 Howard  Moss


Howard Moss was the poetry editor of the New Yorker for almost forty years. In that influential capacity, this quiet, unassuming man was one of the key figures in American letters in the late twentieth century, boosting the careers of many young poets by publishing their work in one of the few mass circulation magazines which bought poetry and paid well for it. Writing in World Literature Today, Ashley Brown observed that "it . . .

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SUBJECT Living, Death, Relationships, Friends & Enemies, Nature, Seas, Rivers, & Streams, The Body

Poetic Terms Elegy, Free Verse

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