Beach Walk, 1972

                   for Matt Miller

Focused on unraveling high tide’s
trashy embroidery, we foraged ahead, doubled
back to our dad in the morning game he
devised to keep us busy. He’d waited out
the War’s last spasms in a German camp.
Now, he kicked driftwood, toed a fish spine,
stopped to study the bay or bend with us
for whelk, limpet, “mermaid’s fingernail,”
violet mussel-pearl, lost lures
with talons tangled in rusty monofilament,
their painted eyes inscrutable. The rare seahorse,
poignant to find one brittle, dead. Generous
praise when we held up what was left
of bottles drowned in boat wakes, scuffed buttons
of Bud or Ballantine, green of Seven-Up
punctuating the ubiquitous aqua of shattered Cokes,
some of which he made us sling reluctantly
beyond the reach of waders’ feet, surrendered
to another winter’s grinding, to the sort of gray
sea a parent would scan for traces of a child’s
flight, the girl whose wings beat to leave
our kitchen counter’s magazine. Naked on a runway
of pain, herded by GI’s, racing a wall
of smoke, a little Icarus whose labyrinth had just
begun, scavenging survival instead of hoping
for explosion from the seaweed’s olive pods.
We’d found the real thing nesting among
the panicles, too, fifth of July’s damp
cylinders we pocketed, forgot. Later that week,
with the shells’ laundered nacre, flecks of fire-
cracker paper like down in the dryer’s lint trap.

Ralph Sneeden has work forthcoming in The American Poetry Review. His poems have appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, The Kenyon Review, Ploughshares, POETRY, The New Republic, Slate, The Southern Review, TriQuarterly, and many other magazines.  The title poem of his first book, Evidence of the Journey (Harmon Blunt, 2007), received the Friends of Literature Prize from POETRY Magazine/Poetry Foundation.  He was the Chubb/LifeAmerica Fellow at the MacDowell Colony and the Bergeron Fellow at the American School in London.  He was born in Burbank and teaches English and directs the George Bennett Writer-in-Residence Fellowship at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, where he lives with his family.
*Photo courtesy of dougtone.
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