“Family History at Sea” by Christopher Locke

Christopher Locke


“it goes on night and day all your life, and when your life
is over it’s still going.”
—Philip Levine

Twilight, and we creep
into the water. Waist deep
in the tide’s icy run, we stiffen
like corpses and grimace
past the waves, the crumbling
pier, and the lighthouse dragging
its one eye across rocks
ruined by seaweed and memories
of lost ships—fifty years since
a wooden trawler packed
with Irish hopefuls, their families
waiting in Boston, the South End,
a guaranteed job as real as the gold
bars of sunlight striping their faces
between the cracks in the deck.

But the lighthouse keeper
could not rise from the stink
of his gin, and the beam
went cold until all those cries
he heard for salvation,
desperate men floating
in the dark tumult of the last
minutes of their lives,
were nothing more than
the gulls which greeted him
next morning, announcing
the blue day spread above,
the sea crashing indifferently
against this world of heat
and land as my grandfather
rocked below the waves,
his feet at last touching

from Rattle #21, Summer 2004

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