In the Drink

By John Hennessy John Hennessy

He would have gone to Hell ageine, and earnest sute did make: But Charon would not suffer him to passe the Stygian lake. —Ovid, Metamorphoses (Tr. by Arthur Golding)

Never mind phantom forms, the Keaton-crash
that dumped us in that sea-fed swamp,
the Dutch kill, Latin nihil, thing without
opposite—attend instead the transcendent,

the flying, for god’s sake, what we saw
the moment before we thwocked overboard:   
a heron stutter-flapped and lifted off,
clumsy as a wind-mauled tarp at first,

but couth beyond sublime once clear
of cattail punks and saltgrass tips,   
the overturned rowboat’s rusted hull.   
Or the cormorant that plunked and dipped,   

rose flipping fish from beak to tongue   
and down its neck, water beading on its head.
But the crown that really pleased the crowd
my maiden voyage was iridescent green,   

brilliantined, a merganser’s spiky coxcomb.
He swam right by, chasing red herrings
and cackling so happily I had to pull
a feather from his cap. And so I surfaced

solo. I tell myself, I only launch the bark,   
I never book the seats. I didn’t stop
to spin the prop or wipe the rail, just tipped   
the motor up and paddle-poled, bottom-

stirred. Rousted horseshoe crabs, sleeping   
ducks, cranky grebes, slapped along
the little waves, the seeping tide, lonelier, sure,
indignant, too—what better lover

has plucked and boasted, over what better lyre?
An open boat: it’s company, not coin, I want.   
I’ll tune the wake to silence, court grace, make change—
still trading on the laughs I’ve jerry-rigged.

Source: Poetry (October 2008).


This poem originally appeared in the October 2008 issue of Poetry magazine

October 2008
 John  Hennessy


John Hennessy is the author of two collections, Coney Island Pilgrims (2013, Ashland Poetry Press) and Bridge and Tunnel (2007, Turning Point Books). He teaches at the University of Massachusetts and serves as poetry editor for The Common.

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Nature, Seas, Rivers, & Streams

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

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