If commerce, too, has its music, then it’s in kumquat, pine nut, Arctic char,
it’s the squeaky front wheel of my little cart, which seems to know the way
between the dry goods and the winter greens, and how my son says “cookie”
as he kicks me from his barred-in seat. All he craves these early days
is sugar, fat, the dark sweet mysteries of a chocolate chip. Outside, the snow
does whatever it is snow does. Banks, I suppose, drifts, and perhaps swirls.
Throws a fresh sheet over the asphalt and the cars. Stretch out here, it seems
to say. Lay down and make a pillow with your hands. And stopped forever
in those four quatrains, Frost’s horse, his man, stand still and watch it fall
between the pines, one seeing perhaps the rag tooth of his own gravestone,
the other winter with a bridle in its hand. The bell a Salvation Army worker
rings has me thinking of them, the horse’s nostrils steaming like a wet engine,
his master lost in his reverie, his swoon, and nothing to be done. His eyes
on the snow, my eyes on him, like the eyes of the cameraman, who can’t seem
to drag his gaze away from those souls who, forsaken, climb the rails.
We’re in San Francisco now and not this New England. Frost’s hometown
until his father, a newspaperman, succumbs to the black lung. The bridge
between the city and the bends of highway one, pressing north towards
Stinson Beach and Oregon. And it’s here they come to jump—one buck-
toothed in an early photograph who, a friend explains, was born an old man.
Black his clothes. Black his hair. Black his curtains. Black his plunge
into the black of the ocean. One who, mid-fall, changes his mind and survives
black-boned, kept alive he says by a seal until the Coast Guard comes, deed
he claims as proof of God’s omnipotence. Sometimes I think the snow
is its own snuff movie, white of the mind after the world caves in. Lear
on his heath charging not you elements. Our traveler weary and wanting
to lie down. Sometimes I think it’s a wedding dress, taken off, put on,
raised from its sailor trunk in the attic, where the moths have gotten in,
and where it sallows like old paper or old skin. The skin, let’s imagine,
about the bones of Frost’s father as he swims towards the bell buoy at Pier 24,
leaving his son behind to mind his clothes. Now he turns to wave, and now
he changes stroke. Later at The Evening Post, the boy will find,
in his old man’s desk drawer, bullets and a bottle of bourbon two thirds consumed.
“I know San Francisco like the back of my hand,” he’ll tell an audience.
And of his father? “I trailed him everywhere, in the way a boy does.”
Who’s to say, out of such loss, you might not conjure a horse, a man gazing
into the snow, as though it were nakedness, or the broken line down the middle
of a midnight road? Who’s to say you might not conjure a man seeking cake flour
and marshmallows before the first plough lowers the rupture of its blade?
Have you ever felt your life become a film you are making, and you unable
to step out from behind the lens? Have you ever felt the cold gnaw at your bones
knowing where your mind goes and what your hand has done? Before launching
his body waterward, our saved boy downs a final meal of Starburst and Skittles,
the colors making a sticky rainbow in his palm. A suspension bridge needs gravity
to stand, I’ve read somewhere. We hover between anchorage and midspan.
Ciaran Berry’s most recent book is The Dead Zoo. His poems have been widely published in American and Irish journals and selected for Best New Poets 2006 and Best American Poetry 2008. The Sphere of Birds, won the Crab Orchard Series Award of Southern Illinois University Press, the 2008 Jerwood Aldeburgh Prize and the inaugural Michael Murphy Memorial Award, 2011. In 2012 he received a Whiting Writers’ Award for poetry.