Ode to the very end of piers / Stuart L. Canton

1.

Walk to the end

from stone, concrete, and sand

to reeking wood and shifting sea-

warp and weft of wind and

memory

 

Run like water from mountains

hours inland to sandstone clefts

 

Here at the edge

before foaming fathoms

rolling bones towards the shoreline

hear sighs and laments

of the brine

 

Despite the grimace of the sun

your shadow disappears into the depths

 

2.

“You can catch fish with marshmallows

as long as they’re biting,”

sages teach my brother and me

between sips of coffee

they wait

their lines quiver in the wind

 

As a child I learned here

I’m drawn back

to the end of the pier

where I sat with my small pole

weighted

 

It seems answers can be found

where so many cast and wait

where my brother and I sipped cocoa

and shivered in the harsh wind

 

waiting for what would come on the other end

the line sunk out of sight

 

3.

At the beginning

families make photographs

with sunscreen-coated hands

Arm in arm couples laugh

 

With tones warm as skin

pizza and beer-battered food

hang greasy in the salted air

Surfboards hurry past

sand grit wet footsteps

running to the billowing surf

 

As a boy I once found this surf writhing with sand crabs

at the base of the tide

a handful of sand crawled away

small brown waves curling and rolling

the muck filled with life

 

4.

Walk farther

over water

into silence

Silence felt through

the cry of gulls

hush of waves

moan of wood

thud thud and shink shink of joggers

 

This is not the tourists’ pier

Two teenagers huddle

An old man walks alone

past sinks

bent, mottled with rust

troughs for hot gore to be spilt and returned to the sea

a place to fill buckets with salt water

buckets set next to benches

where people fishing hold their catch

 

5.

Today, no one is fishing

there is too much sun

Gulls shift their feet back and forth

on the hot, dry boards

 

The smell of rotted wood

fills the air

drifts back to the beach

 

A musk of decay

salt and moulder

scales of fish

smeared across broken barnacles

matted with guano and seal hair

 

Fresh winds blow sea spray

over the rot

 

6.

I remember:

I watch a bearded man throw a shining fish onto the pier

too small for him

too big for the gulls

 

They fight

feet, wings, beaks

slapping and stabbing

the boards with thuds and clicks

The fish sparkles, writhes, flops

One swallows it whole

the others peck the bulge in its neck

 

7.

The breeze picks up

the pier sways

The land is now the thing at the end of the pier

my kinship with land

pulled out over water

 

8.

Near the end

often there is one like myself

he puts his sandals back on

and nods as he passes

 

I step around the bench and onto the ledge

waves tug and push

the water pulls even the sky beneath it

 

9.

I look down to see my

reflection strangled in kelp

cinched around the poles

There are no easy answers here

there is a rhythm

 

The flow of the tides

the moaning boards

the reek of death

all moving back and forth

from land to sea to land again

and so I too return to land

and back to the end of the pier

finding my place in the rhythm

 

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