A word dressed in fog by Dennis Finnell
That was last century. This century we drive cars Named for big dirty cities, or named for good Old-fashioned American ideals. We drive to the Cape Where we gaze, with breaks from dazzling blue-gray Monotony to once in a while steal Quick looks at people-- like the threesome Playing cards under the protective hand Of a big green beach umbrella. They're from Quebec, arrived two nights ago In a Honda Civic, two younger men, one woman, older, With a body out of Breughel, and mother- Ly, especially in her quick glances At the younger man who has been made thin, The one wearing the straw boater, like the hats In Renoir's Luncheon of the Boating Party. Yesterday after dinner this thin man stood At the top of the wooden stairway. It's a steep angle Of ninety-six wooden steps Down the dune's face. He used both hands, Leaning on the back of a white Adirondack chair. He looked up Too long at the dunes, at the wildflowers called Rosa blanda that clung Like crabs all over the sand, maybe seeing in them His own face of roseate Sores. And what did the roses make of His face--did they intuit the familiar, A hybrid rose on two feet? And then he turned his white face On the sea, that kept going about Its business, making waves, but Not hoodwinking him. He could hear it identifying itself as it roared Far out, fell, and dispersed, syllable By syllable. And it asked him, "Why do you all come To me? I'm just saltwater. I'm neither More nor less than my long, Long utterance which, if you must Know, in a nutshell is `Give me your old, the stupid, the weak. Fall down before me. Kiss this mouth I am.' So why come to me? Do I look like some specialist Who'll write a prescription for your face? I'm not a consultant on living, not A guru after whom a wing At the hospice has been named. For the hundredth Time I ask you to leave me in peace. Besides, you're wrong. Why do you think I'm always working Myself to a frazzle against these dunes? For my health? Did you ever think Up there on two legs with your dunes and arms and roses That maybe I keep knocking myself out To get my own answers. Tell me, Where do I come from? Aren't you mostly water, just chemicals With limbs and a head, that can feel? And what is it to feel?" The man who's been made thin Carried his rosetta face Down the wooden stairway. Now I've heard it all. He counted the steps . . . Ninety-five. Ninety-six. Finally. He walked barefoot on The beach, a stick Man, his straw hat off, hair mostly Lost, to chemicals, a hint of the old cowlick Over the shining at his crown. And he talked to the sea. "In my tongue your name sounds like Our word for `mother.' They're homonyms. Those who were first thrilled with speech, A feeling like being deeply kissed by the mouth Of the world as you devour it, They too walked a sugary beach like this one Somewhere sometime, eyeing the poor Emptied shells and overhead The culprit gull, his wings held on the air in a crooked M, The old Phoenician glyph called mem, meaning Water. Those who first spoke, eating Their daily ration of the world And spitting it loudly out, must have Looked at such creatures, apparently Weightless in the steaming air above their sea, Marrying the gull's crooked wings From then on with water. They must have walked near water like yours, Atlantic, and saw out of who-knows-what Residue of design a word Dressed in fog out of a mouth dancing With the big, filthy world. And its child Is us, pointing to something like you, And making a sound for mother." The man who's been made thin Stopped talking to the Atlantic. He walked on Along the beach, between water on his left rising up in waves For no reason, as humans sometimes do Because the crowd does, and the steep Dunes on the right held in a big slow wave. Two of many clocks for him, the insistent One of water saying walk, Walk, and the real slow one Of sand which whispers, or does it bitch? He felt the beach sand under his bony feet-- It almost tickled between his toes--these historical Globelets of silica, each with its essay On this shellfish or that. He is made thin, "light, More pure," he joked to himself, even though He felt his own more slight weight Amplified by the multiplier of disease. He would not bend over To pick up the hermit crab's shell, even though It's beautiful, its interior marbled Like the veined sheen of an old man's face, Even though his mother would have gladly taken it from him, Kept it in lieu of him on her nightstand, Even though it was one more version of himself, What he'd done, where he's headed. "Shell, whose marble face Will you help hold up?" To bend over meant he would have felt his torso, Balding head, accuse him. It would have multiplied That all he'd done Had come home to his body, weighing It down, a packed tiny house. He would not bend over To pick up the coin somehow beached there, Even though it might have held His life's copper version, his face Coppered. He had already almost freed Himself, if he could have made death his life, Master his equal. Heads? Tails? He walked back to the protective hand Of the big green beach umbrella. His footprints filled with the Atlantic, Seeping in from below. The Atlantic watched The man who has been made thin then climb Ninety-six wooden steps up The dune's face, using both hands on the guard rails, "A hybrid rose on two feet climbing The dune's face, a rose soon to float on my face, Soon to be crushed into perfume."
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