Near the Docks

There was a fire in the night.
Across the street I slept among the others
as the ashes snowed upon small pines.
I slept owning nothing, a child ignorant
of fortune’s blistering story, the playful
flash in the dark, the unseen smolder
that would leave us revealed, unchanged.
I said my prayers for luck
but the man trying to live in two houses
answers me now, losing
neither the old one whose windows burst
with weariness, nor the one half-built
whose roofless, green timbers
he would leave unfinished like a vision.
I had climbed there all summer to smoke.

Awake, I found him sitting at his stool
halfway between the houses
where I would go each morning. The story
of the sea would be upon his tongue,
his hands weaving the wire to a trap,
making the careful seams to catch
a scuttling crab. Beyond him, his wife
already had begun to stretch her wash,
indifferent in that early light, and a dog
lapped from the ruts of the fire truck.

I believed little had been changed by fire,
only his toolshed limp as a black sail
left in a heap, and a new hole
in the landscape. This was an old place
where no one came, luckless, desperate,
eternal as guilt. In silence
I greeted that old one. But now I remember
seeing also, as if for the first time,
the shocking gray face of the sea.
It loomed up human and beautiful
as far off the figures of boats crossed,
worked, and seemed to sink
while they burned in the sullen sun.

Dave Smith, “Near the Docks,” from The Roundhouse Voices: Selected and New Poems (New York: Harper & Row, 1985). Copyright © 1985 by Dave Smith. Reprinted with the permission of the author.
Source: The Roundhouse Voices: Selected and New Poems (1985)
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