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Features | Poem

Little Boat, Unsalvaged

For Fran and Ellen Voigt

September-October 2004

Thwarts, chines, ribs mud-caked, this one's deadrise bow is lifted
as if by gusts, whitecaps' scud and swat no fear with her. Would she 

plane, or plow? Give a good ass-bumping if we'd go out today?
Someone left his dream-sized hull to salt's pimples, slosh, a girl's 

name time rubbed from a tide-canted stern. Mahogany's rotted,
worm-grained, beauty we schemed in side-yard sun. Where I live 

marshes fill with them, dull wanderers stoned by trash, the fog-eye
of acid-mist. Mud flats, pocked, keep all half-sunk, half surged-up,

skiers flung off where a wheel whipped. Sun's char at pine-tops,
dying gullsong's where I go, and night's swell-in of black water. 

In earshot, almost, when breasts boiled and peeled, scarred scalds
slipped under. Nail-bleed, sun-bleach say no set-out days left. Still, 

I find it here, floating and leap-in, sway of grass like joy as we
buoyed up, or plunged into holes, refusing to be anchored and safe,

little go-hard twist of an outboard screwing for all we'd make up,
guess at, going God knows where—some sandbed like a room, calm 

so lucid nothing could be lost, keys quick as fish-darts, no rings
that joined what we'd cast into. But wading was a sliced sole,

oyster's edge, panic's throttled shudder, wind squealing hurt.
Breath sucked again, I look past all that storms destroy at hands

in mine, steps by hooks rusting, moments of love with the cooler
beer-stuffed, shells opening, flesh brine-perfect, still pumping. 

Somewhere charts know, we're shoving out, so happy we weep.
How quietly, then, it happened, salt coating us, sun like fingers 

raking the cheeks, the unsalvaged hull alive with swirls of stars.
Like a child I still climb in and wait to be lifted, flood tide cycling

in tiny waves that swell, take us unaware, the sprawl and soothe
of reedbed, wake bubbling, anticipation, all we loved. This. Now.


Dave Smith has been, since 2002, Coleman professor of poetry in the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University. He was for 11 years previously Boyd professor of English and coeditor of the Southern Review at Louisiana State University. His forthcoming collection of poetry, This. Now, will be published by LSU Press in 2005. Previous collections include The Wick of Memory: New and Selected Poems 1970-2000 (LSU Press, 2000).