rescue at sea

The fall passed quickly
And with it hope.
She felt it, too, I think,
Those last months.
We fanned the fire,
Frantic, whenever
Doubt snarled at us.

Her retreat was how
I came to know that,
Married thirty years,
Marriage had snared her
Like an anchor line
And held her down among
The waving aquatic plants
Whose sibilant dirge
Was a lullaby she understood.

I had not expected her,
Late in life, had not expected
Love like this, love
That taught a man who
Loved his children fiercely

A mother’s love, love 
For this infant being
I held between my hands
Whose eyes gazed into mine,
As unaware as I that we
Were not one heart pulsing.

One day she said, “My bear …”

Agony, then, to see my baby
Fall from the gunwhale
Into the sea, arms at her side,
A plunging wraith, a tiny mermaid
Diving.

When I awoke from that agony,
From that long, wet night
On the cold sea of which
Legions of men and women
Like us surged by, borne
On the broken pieces of things
They had owned in life—

Millions laughing, millions
Weeping, millions mute or dumb
With surprise, bewildered
Or bemused;

Then, in the flotilla
Of those long dead,
Of those speakers of Aramaic,
Makers of swords,
Sellers of paint and brushes and seeds,
Among the wedding gowns
And funeral clothes
And fancy ties and feathered
Hats and painted faces

Were she and I. With the throng
On the surging sea under austere clouds,
Fingers laced, faces solemn,
We floated frozen in sleep.

When I awoke from that bleak parade,
That shipwreck of time and grief
And shrunken love,
Winter had come,
And I was an old man.

A fine shining snow
Had settled in the yard,
And in the bare birch a raven
Cocked its gleaming head
And uttered a soundless cry.
A bell rang.

There she stood,
Cold and flushed and smiling,
The fragment of a hawser
Trailing from her boot,
Shivering, waiting to come in.