Just beyond the looking glass of dawn
when the cormorants reel and swoop down
over glassy water and up above the threaded
needles of the boatyard masts, the shock
of the welder’s arc, a spray of white sparks, and grumble
of diesel help the yard of Goudy and Stevens
give birth to the stubby iron plates of an oil skimmer.
A steel crane, a tall, unforgiving frozen joint
of an arm, slowly lifts the pilot house up
and up the four stories to its slot on the bridge
above the wide mouth whose jaws gape, anxious
to strain the sea and digest man’s greasy plankton
before it oozes into the pores, onto the feathers,
and over the scales of every creature cheaper than gas.
It’s the biggest job in years for East Boothbay—
a place of rivets and old boats—where the tides keep
the starfish bright under the clear prism of the sea
and above the shale shells of clam. On a Sunday
when only the gulls work, and the breeze pushes this way
till the mollusks scent the air more than oil, one can stroll
under the skimmer’s hull and imagine a sweep
of huge, green seas lunging against
the plates to hold the skimmer back
as it strains against the scream of salt
spray to reach yet another great, black
tanker stacked beneath the gray rock
turned white under ageless seabird droppings.
Oh the North Atlantic is a towering heavyweight
who will not pay a lot for a tanker—
ocean biceps never tire. They clench, draw
their tidal gloves back to launch blow
after blow thudding to the body and the head,
driving the punch-drunk shell, eyes bruised
to slits, deeper onto the granite ropes
where it begins to bleed and buckle.
After the count, the always champion
Atlantic raises green fists in victory
then lumbers from the ropes leaving the ring
to a skimmer from a clapboard town
with a boatyard, one store, a church, and an inn.
This poem was previously published in Northern New England Review, 1996. It was also adapted and recorded as the song “East Boothbay” by Doug Clegg on Only Fools Predict The Weather, 1996.