Winter On The Coast

Winter On The Coast

The teenager at the Mobil station
tells us not much happens this time
of year. Loggers out of work.
A few farmers in for gas.
He gets out a snapshot of a huge
praying mantis: You have to have
a project, he tells us, like building
dune buggies. Roll bars. Rack and pinion
steering. Warning flags at the end of poles.

He sees we’re from another planet.
Customized, he explains. Patiently.

We sell a lot of these flags.
Long as I can remember, lots of flags.
His father looks up from the dog-eared
Playboy he’s been fingering:
You tell ’em all about it, Son.
Eighteen years. All eighteen years.

He winks at us.

On the causeway the current holds
the bait just under the surface.
The fisherman has his kids along.
I ask him what they’re looking to get.
Nothing much. Just a quiet place.
What about you? Birds, I say, making
a pair of binoculars with my hands.

The seals watch us canoeing across
the inlet. We get close enough
to see their whiskers.

Out on the spit our dog flushes
a pintail out of the sharp beach grass.
One of its wings is broken. It thrashes
away and submarines. The dog plunges in,
treading water, swiveling her neck.

The seals riding out the tide
blink from sight. Rain freights in,
cancelling the horizon. Our dog barks
against the sudden darkness. Gulls whirl
in a burst of sunlight. Coved from the wind,
bufflehead and goldeneye hold the shore.
Higher on the cape, the fir nurses
on deadfall, the rot of centuries.
Their thighs bind the earth.

On the long beach, a single set of tracks.