Charles Adès Fishman



By the Sea

Sea wind, you have a soft mouth
You know blessings and the mourner's kaddish
Ashes strewn on the waves seed the barrier beaches
                 coral reefs off the Grenadines
                                  atolls of Micronesia

white mouth of the black sea,
when it is time to take me do not hold back
                 your power
but, until that moment, blow softly
                 on me and my beloveds

Sea breeze, buttery soft in the dry heat,
                 drop showers of violet sand grains
                 out of this late sunlight
                                  pour down on me this softening
fill my ears so the noise of this world fades
close my eyes: the inner landscape
                                                                will open

Sea wind, blow through me
You know I am barely here, that the gull who shrieks
                his warning over my head
                                    is more reliable

With your salt breath, your trance-deepened wisdom
you quiet me      
                                    Scoured by you, I soften     
I breathe again the first smells of childhood:
               the wide ocean     of my mother's body
                        smoke in my father's hair
and you, wind from the sea, bearing fresh news
                                    of the planet

Your hand on me now     opens
                                                            my closed-off heart.




At Browning's Pond

I doubt now I could find it:
the map is erased in that corner,
paved over.

Once I played there, late in a warm
October. I think I was nine.
blackbirds cried out in the cattails.

My mind was a swamp of feelings:
soft black mud, standing water.
I waded through reeds and leeches,
splashed with a pickerel's ease.

This, too, is a gate I must open:
still pond, the sun that lingered,
redwing of my heart. Water
that pours now through my fists,
water that calms and pleases.

That day, I swam with the glint
of a shiner right off the map
of childhood.

The pond was a mystery almost as deep
as my body.




Hydro-Québec in James Bay Wilderness, 1992


A silence wells up at the mouth
of the river, north of Québec,
in the haunted light of a culture
silence deep as the bay, burden
of many rivers: Eastmain and Moose,
Nottaway and Attawapiskat, the La Grande
and this, that rolls and flashes
beneath us, Whapmagoostui, the Great
Whale. Miles of dark-green black spruce
and white spruce, taller, ash-barked, dress
the guardian hills. Here, millennia
of ponds have glittered in first light,
translucent as blown glass or turbid, hue-
shifting, like molten pewter; lakes polished
smooth in the near-Arctic sun: trays of native
silver; rivers swollen with pike, whitefish, salmon;
geese in the rippled streams, snowy owls in darkening
branches; caribou chesting the current; endless
tide of blood, meat, hide, horn, bone, music.

After sundown, a red hunter's moon rises
over the stalking grounds of the Cree nation.
Lodges are fragrant with elk skins, with evergreen
boughs. The night is bisected, then quartered,
by shimmering light that spangles the black dream
of hills. water burns with the light.

For five thousand years, the people sat around this fire:
chanted, gave thanks, grieved, laughed and remembered.
Ancestors are buried here.

A cry spirals up like the rasp of a red-tailed hawk.



Two Boys at the Seashore


They live in a desert of strangeness,
step lively on a strung wire of dreams
that sways dangerously above the sea brine.
Like firewalkers, they cross where only faith
can navigate. Ignorant of lethal winds,
tsunamis; gawky, white-blond, and nearly
hairless; their boxer swim trunks
are all that distinguish them from figures
drawn in sand.
                                A sudden gust
off the wave crests is reason to run:
quick quick quick quick quick — sandpipers.
A shadow at the shoreline is where-to-dig:
dark, wet, gritty, yielding, without
bottom. Sand is to scatter, not to protect,
and energy is what grows luminous
on their bodies: sheen over burned skin,
aura over pallor.
                                 They mine the beach
for treasure, move in a haze of friendship
and unknowing. Green trunks and red,
they disappear slowly, dissolve into purple
blackness, into seagrape air, at the horizon.
What is left are hieroglyphs: tracks
of sea ducks, sanderlings, oyster catchers,
plovers, phalaropes, turnstones —

Shadows caught in flight, let them be gathered
like shore birds wading tidepools of sun.




Cape Hatteras, 1938


I went fishing with my father
in that dream. I have the pictures
in my head: the old Woody crammed
with gear and nested in the dunes.
I have his rods, reels, sinkers,
hand-carved lures. His hip-boots
fit me snugly. This can't be memory.
For where are the striped bass
we've caught? where is the sea's
green membrane?
the sea's bitter
blood? Where are the shiny scales
that should stipple our arms
and fingers? The shore tips
and heaves: stars brush our lips
with healing galactic fire. Father,
can you feel the briny stars
on your aging body? I went fishing
with you in my dream, and you reached
into the dark waves to teach me,
you walked the twilight beach with me,
you released me from my anger.
But it was death we shared, not life.
Can you feel the tide run now,
its churn and ebb? can you hear
the storm pound the sand with rain?
can you feel the line scream
in our bleeding hands? Have I hooked you,
father? Will I land your heart at last?


Speaking Island



Wind seethes deep in the coconut palms,
weaves those spiky leaves into weapons
of samurai rain

then slowly unsheathes the sun — a changeableness
the blood gathers: pelican gulp of the breeze,
blue heron cloaked in mangrove root

and shadow. You drink deeply this moss-tangled
heaven, clasped securely in talons
of sun and air.


From the yellow frangipani, joy in fragrance.
The red hibiscus flares. Welcome to the sun,
to bare skin, the realm of the body,

sweet odors of star-blossoming hands, home
still green and butterfly-golden, aroma
of fresh coffee, vanilla bean, tapioca, ginger. 

Your toes and fingers, lips and throat


what language does the earth speak?
Perhaps tongues near to the equator know
bone-fire Gaelic or Upper Ganges Greek,
some subterranean text darker than Swahili
that bubbles up from a fissure deep
as grief

It's something about the trees that gives meaning:
the way they sway, the way they lean
toward death.


And the sea — what vowels or consonants
does the sea utter? Sunlight faltering west
cuts the night to ribbons, prisms of light

risen from the underworld     of the moment.
It's the light falling and the slashed night riven
and the mind a full moon tidal in its power:

once again, to be cupped in the palm
of beauty.



At the Edge


A warm October: goldenrod lights
the dunes, the sky a prism
of lightnings.

Fishing fleet on the horizon,
gray necklace of fat metal beads,
but what they trawl for, that rich ore
of ocean, is almost gone:
the striped bass my father cast for,
diminished, the sea harvested,
robbed of its blood.

Wind lifts the waves,
a soft lace rustle.
Beautiful things tumble
out of those sleeves:
battered twists of drift-
wood, bottle glass
ground to green or purple
splendor, this trailing hem
of the sea, an instrument
a thousand miles long: clatter
of cracked clam shells, mutterings
of smoothed stones.

what are we here for
if not to know beauty
to taste the last sweetness
of being, to find the last
scatter of bones?




A Father and Two Sons  

What is a father, and what is love?
Maybe it is the going out of the self
that certain men can do
when they put their children first
when they attend to the needs
of the little ones — as when this father
sails a striped beach towel
over his tiny son’s head
over that two-year-old nakedness
closing them in to a holy space
only they can share:
under this floating pavilion,
a safe universe is born.

Or perhaps it is the same father
with his elder son, a 5- or 6-year-old,
at the blurred edge of the atlantic.
Courage must be taught — and caution:
a backward flop into the foam-tipped waves
a dive through the shallow chop,
no safety net but the unspoken:
I am here and I will not let you drown.
This father stands on his hands
in the sea brine, unlikely gift of fearlessness
and balance, and both sons hear what the sea
whispers: I will not let you swim into your life
without direction.





Passing September
            Great South Bay, Fall 2002


All that glitters is the bay
in hazed-over afternoon sun.
The tide’s in, Fire Island a thin
lifting of dark earth and sand
that crests and wavers
on this fourth day of autumn.

Fractured crab claws sprawl
on the old pier’s scoured planks,
the shell of the living animal
cracked open: a husk in two unequal
halves, picked clean by the gull
that stood near, content and silent.

In this space, at the slashed edge
of the continent, a late summer day
swims back against relentless drift:
seeds, small insects, rays of light,
swept through blue September sky.

They soared and glimmered
like worlds burning out,
Their diminutive lights laser bursts,
at first, but swiftly softening.

And I saw that that day, too, would fade
toward night, that all sun-lit things
would darken and contract: that beauty,
and life itself, must vanish, though tightly,
tightly, grasped.




Sleeping Near Water: Poros


A kid on a motorbike shows us the way.
The pensione is a backstreet dive, tawdry:
from the bedroom, the view is rooftops,

a wedge of turquoise water,
a scatter of warped boards,
open tar pots, tubs of unwashed gravel.

This is where we are, but soon we are leaving.
It is already late in the day — the agent has gone
swimming. A raging fight with the boy brings

“Uncle” back from the beach. We would have
lifted him from the sand so we could find a sweeter place,
would have carried him back, dripping and hissing.


The corner room he shows us opens on water
and we fall back on the bed, at peace. The room
has a small balcony that rises over the sea:

from here, the full sweep of the shore can be seen,
gradations of darkness and light, the pale aqua sea

blown rose and carmine as the melting sun recedes,
then petalled into folds of purple and black silk.

Before the sun falls out of the sky and the scythe
of the lit coast darkens entirely, we drink
the retsina wine our friends gave us at parting,

we eat the Ligourio bread and cheese, we toast
each other: to our health, to love, and to the wealth
of friends.

Water and light and the soft night breeze
blowing white curtains toward the blackened sea,
the ancient Greek sea whispering beneath us . . .

this was nearly two years ago, beloved,
and only now can I write these words for you,
only now can I let the memory surge back:

sleeping near water, on that scimitar coast
under stars, the surf breaking ceaselessly under us

where we slept, where the white curtains floated
in the soft beauty of night.



Broich's Boat

It was Frank Broich's boat, thirty-two footer,
three masts and inboard engines, he'd built
with his own hands. It was the boat

and the man — he was the image: capable, successful,
sarcastic, brutal — a father — and you, father,
were painfully like him, only less educated, less able

to manipulate the world, but just as violent: quick to whip
off your belt and threaten my life over practically

nothing. You were broad, brawny, bone-weary and bone-
angry from the bequeathed indecencies of your life.

It was Broich's boat that armed me for the next day
at school, for the failure of being your son,
for the shame-faced singularity of growing up.

Those were good hours we spent aboard
that boat: our shared mission, to bring back
a haul of snappers or porgies, white-bellied winter

flounder or "doormat" fluke, to find the mother lode
of fighting blues. Near the buoy, just off the rocks,

on the far side of the toll bridge, the rip tide
would listen to our wills and what we wanted —

adventure, friendship, freedom, even love — might leap
from the green-black swells of ocean and be hooked.

Father, I want to stand again at starboard as the boat
rocks down, to feel that sluicing energy tear through me

with each ripping nibble, the caution to wait, to pay
out line, the bait taken and run with, the smell of sea brine,

spider crabs, bloodworms drenching — soaking — us,
driving up into our floating bodies.

It is that connection with you I want again, that giving
of your knowledge, your desire — I want to learn from you

again, not a boy at a man's side, anchored by his weight,
his steadiness, but a man in need of you, aware of you.

Before you die, father, fish with me again, share
your secrets: let the tide of our love turn.