Poetry Supplement Summer 1999, Volume 17.0
William Snyder Jr.
William Snyder, Jr. has poetry published in Puerto Del Sol, Apalachee Quarterly, Southern Humanities Review, The Cape Rock and The Midwest Quarterly. He teaches writing and literature at Concordia College, Moorhead, MN.
Everything Sits Right Sometimes
Landscapes unfold—blue, green, gray
on every manner of hill, these hills
overlooking the village on the Fergus.
At the grocery, we buy four potatoes,
a bag of soup mix—lentil—three, stubby
carrots and I cook these things
on the communal stove. It's raining out—
another day and the low clouds—even
the morning view from Clifton Hill
was fuzzy, though the rain
is a fine thing, especially
in the kitchen with people around—
the women from Italy, the guy
from Liege, you, you from Napa. You.
I do like rain. Some days it fits a mood
like a sock. An old man with a cane
watches the BBC in the parlor—
a football match, Kerry vs Killarney
and people cheer. The soda bread
fits perfect with the soup, with the rain,
though I've made too much and much
too thick. There are even mushrooms,
come alive with the sauce. Tomorrow,
though it is never mentioned between us—
the bus to Ennis, then on to Shannon
and on from there. Me to Philly.
What will happen then
is anybody's guess. For us.
Though the rain is a given. That I'll—
well, no use getting sappy
about it now. But landscapes do unfold,
and unfold everywhere.
To Speak of Leaving
The mottled pier—hard stones mortared over
long ago. A wooden boat
sways in the calm below. Eddies gurgle farther out,
and farther still, currents and the sun
weave fissures and whirls.
The ferry arrives. Men hold hawsers as we board.
There is no need to cry. The reasons for anything
are exaggerated here, and recognized easily,
like the ferry's name in red
around the life preservers; the cuckoos
beyond the rough, stone walls inland (just last hour);
and the little store—bins of tiny, sea-salt potatoes
hand-dug from loam.
It would be nothing
to be flung away to an untethered somewhere—floating,
desirable. The engines vibrate. Exhaust throbs
upward. I lie on a wooden bench, watch the sky,
the low clouds scooting against us. You join me.
Too noisy below. Say something.
Say the wish to stay, though now, too late.
The wish to stay alone. Too late.
What do we want—longing
confused with desire? Touch is important
no longer. That is the feeling now, my feeling (yours?)
though we touch, for a moment as the ferry plunges
down a green wave and up another—we touch—
shoulders and arms through cotton and wool,
through skin, warm skin, but colder now
than in our narrow bed (just this morning) three,
four blankets thick, piled on against the rain,
the fog. Say something. It is clearer now,
here, the sun even—and that's what makes it hard.
We wake to the late afternoon—August heat,
street-side chatter, smells of charcoal
and grilling fish. We wander out, groggy, hungry.
But down a street, music, and we follow it,
and find a stage on a square where two men
play accordions, a woman a clarinet. An old man
dances, claps his hands and people laugh, whistle,
urge him on. The band plays a waltz,
and children in white and blue, jingles sewn
to collars and sleeves, do a local step—turns
and dips. One girl, short hair, forehead
glistened with sweat, dances with them, her lips
just-drawn at the corners to a smile. This smile,
and her eyes—dark, almond-round, skin calm
and new around them—speak a knowingness
of fingertips, of calves and thighs, muscles
shaping gesture and skin. Her arms rise,
snap across her chest to pull a spin
and she whirls. She faces us, feet skipping
right-toe-stamp, and she sees us, she must—
in knots and stands on the cobblestones—
how we watch, how we have to watch, as we would
a fire, a field of phlox. And all the dancers,
holding hands, swoop and spin. And the music ends.
The dancers bow, step down. The girl hugs the man
who danced—her grandfather perhaps, and I
imagine, deep inside of her, between her lips
and heart, a basin filled with dance, with joy,
with what it is to be this girl, with what it is
to know of grace. Now we hunt a cafe for beer,
bread, peppery fish. I demonstrate my dancing. Kick-
jump-stumble. You laugh, push me aside.
Nancy at Conyers*
I get here early to see Nancy better.
Speakers carry her voice,
but I watch her eyes seeing saints
while she tells us what Mary's said.
People sit in lawn chairs or on blankets
or they stand and pray. Some hold
posters of Mary and wear cowls
like hers, only her's is pressed
and there's never sweat above her lip.
Nancy said a tear-like substance
rolled down Mary's face and that Mary
looked tired and had circles
around her eyes. Nancy says Mary
isn't happy. That's why Java
has earthquakes. Last month I took
a whole thing of polaroids. Saints
or haloes or floating crosses of light
show up sometimes. When I peeled
off the backs, nothing but clouds.
And a sky. Roy and the boys
say Nancy's a crock. I always wanted
to go to Guadaloupe or Lourdes, but we
never could. Maybe Mary'll come
to Macon. And hold her fingers
like the Pope and speak
to me in her voice. She won't say
how sad she is. She'll say
that John and Jeff are really good kids
and Roy and me should calm down
a little. And then she'll sprinkle out
and she'll bless me
and tell me not to feel so bad
about things and the way things are.
* Conyers, GA, where, according to the New York Times, Nancy Fowler claims to have seen Marian visitations since 1990.