By Thomas McGrath 1916–1990 Thomas McGrath
At two thousand feet the sea wrinkles like an old man’s hand.
Closer, in a monotone of peristalsis,
Its fugue-like swells create and recreate
One image in an idiot concentration.

From horizon to horizon, this desert
With the eye athirst for something stable
When off to southeast-ward—
It was a plane all right, or had been,
A shipside fighter, her pontoons floated her.
Smashed like a match-case, no one could be sure
If it were ours or had been one of theirs.

That’s all there was. A thousand miles anywhere
There was only the north ocean, the poleward pallor,
Like a desolation of spirit, lonelier than god.
What did it mean? They thought of night fleets
In the ghostly boreal dark or maybe
Toy cardboard silhouettes in the bleak limbo of noon:
The salvos wink in bloom at twenty miles,
The pause, the roar like a night freight
And the near misses building their faery forests.

Where were these giants? The sea offered
A single clue, a symbol; no explanation.
Northward the fog banks thickened and on all horizons
As if jealous of giving up secured positions
The night stirred angrily like an old suspicion.

Thomas McGrath, “Encounter” from Movie At The End of the World. Copyright � 1972 by Thomas McGrath. Used by permission of Swallow Press/Ohio University Press.

Source: Poetry (April 1946).


This poem originally appeared in the April 1946 issue of Poetry magazine

View this poem in its original format

April 1946
 Thomas  McGrath


For some fifty years, the late Thomas McGrath produced a prolific array of titles, encompassing poetry, novels, books for children, and several documentary film scripts, including uncredited work on the eloquent and exhilarating Smithsonian film about the history of flight, To Fly. But McGrath is primarily a poet, and although "important contemporary poets . . . proclaim him as a major voice in American poetry in the last three . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Nature, War & Conflict, Social Commentaries, Seas, Rivers, & Streams

Report a problem with this poem

Your results will be limited to content that appeared in Poetry magazine.

Search Every Issue of Poetry

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.