A Swimmer in the Air

That sea we see of surfaces
Turned upside down would be another world:
A bone shop, soaked in pearl, a dumping-
Ground for rarities, the sea-maws pumping
Grecian garbage Roman cities hurled
Seaward westward toward our faces.

That sea would yield up secret farms,
Gray-rotted by itself, encrusted thick
With unimaginable wealth, the spoil
Of deaf-mute drownings, the immemorial
Dead, floating in a blue-green bailiwick
Of nun-like plants waving arms.

That sea will not turn over. See
In its deepest keep, far from its shallow,
The formal, hidden iceberg, slant, oblique
With pregnancy below, thrust up its peak—
Like ourselves in the water-beasted wallow,
Caught in a cellular ecstasy.

In the same vein, all flesh conceals
Articulation's fishnet, whose thread-bones
(A metaphysic harp from sky to heel)
Hang in the flesh that dangles from the creel
Depending from the weedy Hand that owns
All fishnets and all fishing reels.

His answers breed a further question:
The fingernails of scale a snake will shed
In spring, coil after coil, on moistened clay,
Though similar to the serpent wriggling away,
Are but facsimiles, though not quite dead.
Testing this, see how the rest shun

Drying memorials to that race
That mined our viewpoint in the Garden,
Whose inching tape maneuvered in the sun
To measure every guilty length of Eden.
Man is an animal that needs a warden
To frighten off the Master's face,

For even an idiot sees a world
No tree or dog would dream of, finds a name
For pain or absence of it, marries love
Of one kind of another. In his grove,
Insensible fruit trees and wild game
Grow naturally, though he lies curled,

The spit and image of our wish,
Smoking a pipe, with an ice-cold Cola
Clutched in one hand, and the Sundy funnies spread
On both his knees. He'll leave his lurching bed
To throw hot jazz on an old victrola—
A far cry from the primal fish

Whose fine-boned spine our back remembers:
The river bottoms, and the sea-silt soft
As soup, the mudflats where night crawlers came,
Tempted by the water tops to change the lame
Arrangements, making of the air a loft
Fitted to our brackish members,

And out we clambered, eyeing land,
Our moist eyes focused on the moron green,
Hot on our backs abnormal dryness, shadow
Forming in the seanets, seaweed into meadow,
Finally landing at the foot of pine,
Heavy with salty contraband

While the birds beautifully beat blue
On erect wings, as magically they soared,
Feathered and efficient, from tallest trees to stake
A claim so ravishing that now we undertake
To map an area we once ignored,
Still exiles from that upper view,

For, mummers of the ocean's Word,
Our dry translations tidied from the deep,
Bespeak its ancient languages. The salt
Our tears and blood must harbor from its vault
Is shed on every beach-head where we creep,
Part man, dry fish, and wingless bird.

by Howard Moss

Other poems of MOSS (16)

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