A helicopter hovers
toward white sky, along the shore,
in close surveillance of the beach
on which we lie among so many,
with not much left to say, sand rippling
toward us from the sea.
What do you see, not see? If I open
my eyes again, I’ll find you
lying still, or reading, sea glass
gathered in a heap, sunglasses
hiding what you’re thinking. And while
swimmers call out to friends who rise
to shake the sand from blankets,
this darkness—almost a deep red—pulses
slowly, like the surf.
Somewhere in a Golden Guide,
I read about Red Eft,
a small life, streak of blood.
Never seen one, never will. And now
the helicopter’s back, black shadow
drowning out the ocean
—Crumpled Styrofoam, dried kelp,
a horseshoe crab’s unlucky armor.
How long will we lie here, struck dumb,
paralyzed by heat, unwavering
sun and pulse of waves, so much
unsaid, withheld between us?
Nothing gained, I change position, find
my arm is touching yours.
I may just open up my eyes.
I may just say a word or two.
Instead, I only drift away
and think about red eft, red eft,
small life, a fading coolness
that you lift, cupped in your palm,
as you walk across white dunes, and paper
blows up toward the sky—
a shimmer of heat above white noise.
Suicide of an Old Man
New York Times, December 7, 1879
The facts are few. It happened in Elmira.
The laborer, well-to-do—an immigrant,
or not, we’ll never know—was touched by fire,
a fit (what else to call it?), that turned saint,
sinner, or soul between, David Fitzgerald
toward his end. What labor had been his?
What symptoms or behavior had been herald?
To what force did he finally answer, “Yes,”
seeking the means—smashed bottle, carving knife,
straight razor freshly rinsed—to cut his throat
to-night from ear to ear, taking the life
he must have valued once? (Or maybe not.)
Insanity’s no answer, though the text he
features in records his age: Near sixty.
The Yankee Clipper
For my adoptive father Carmine, Southside Hospital, October 2000
I tilt your chin, blade gliding in its pass
across smooth skin, tracks edged with shaving cream,
bed raised, your pillow white, smeared window glass
bleached by October sunlight. Razor’s rim
dabbed clean, I trim your mustache, tiny fleece-
hairs falling. Outside, dead leaves—copper, flame,
brass, verdigris—still cling to branches high
over the cars of 27A,
Main Street, Bay Shore, no ocean-view in sight.
I towel off your face. You look years younger,
i.v. measured digitally, your weight
past guessing, weeks since fortified by hunger.
Can I swing the tray out, switch the light
off, on as day wanes? Don’t you lift a finger.
“Can’t wait to get out.” Your iron-gray hair’s
gone white, all white as snow. By now, the cars
flick on their headlights, traffic thinning out.
The Yankee Clipper was an s.o.b.,
Newsweek informs us as I read aloud
excerpts for entertainment. Skeptically,
you listen, straw-slurps, shake your head, or nod
when I recount heroics, Italy
his father’s birthplace, struggling fisherman
who found the day’s catch sickening a son
meant not for boats but bats. Eyes hard, he’d stub
the dirt with one foot, step up to the plate.
He wasn’t perfect, either? Join the club.
But now, you’re tired and need to sleep—at eight,
all visitors must leave, and in the Sub-
way Series soon to come, the Mets will bite
the dust in five games. Gore will win and lose.
DiMaggio? “No one could fill his shoes.”
From The Trials of Edgar Poe and Other Poems (Story Line Press, 2010)
Ned Balbo’s third book, The Trials of Edgar Poe and Other Poems (Story Line Press), received the 2012 Poets’ Prize, and the 2010 Donald Justice Prize selected by judge A. E. Stallings. Lives of the Sleepers (University of Notre Dame Press, 2005), received the Ernest Sandeen Poetry Prize and a ForeWord Book of the Year Gold Medal. Galileo’s Banquet (Washington Writers’ Publishing House, 1998) shared the Towson University Prize for Literature. The recipient of three Maryland Arts Council grants, Balbo has received the Robert Frost Foundation Poetry Award and the John Guyon Literary Nonfiction Prize. He is co-winner of the 2013 Willis Barnstone Translation Prize for his translations of Baudelaire’s “Le Mort joyeux.” More poems in Iowa Review, Valparaiso Poetry Review, and Poetry.
-- Ned Balbo