Scott Withiam

Becoming Hat
September 23, 2018 Withiam Scott

Becoming Hat

When in Rockport— with Rockport—
I looked to do something great, improve
its bygone seaport known for its shifting painterly light,
its galleries, its grainy wood lobster
shacks, their backsides arrayed
with lobster buoys, the motif
depicted in paintings become
a kind of candied cliché,

a tourist trap. Right away, right away, Oh, great!
I had arranged, after forty years, to meet
a lost and weathered friend in the same place,
in the local breakfast haunt,
a former chandlery,
the only thing close to a candle
a backlit neon marker sign saying Now Serving: Lightly
Powdered Waffles
.

Lightly powdered waffles—
for sure what it’d like be catching up
on present lives in a town far richer
with past, though no matter, small
would whittle down to one waffling demarcation
made by an old hurt or disagreement or jealousy
for another’s success or lack of, and did.
Whichever one still burned

in that former chandlery,
for a few seconds, shed light not on
Rockport’s but my realization:
that whatever hurt flickering was also cliché,
worn smooth wool, tired and waxy,
like the hat my old friend still wore
after forty years, which still bugged me,
though unlike then, I was determined,

in a stubborn New Englander in his own way,
and would not stand, would not allow,
no, for the same old hat. No, now
I did something great with that hat.
Ye old Greek sailor’s cap on my friend’s head
was that of an 18C merchant ship’s captain,
which I handcrafted myself,
in a historical heartbeat, and my own self

waxed into the captain’s chief petty officer. So there,
then, after breakfast, we both lived better
in old Rockport, and together knocked about its back streets
to surround ourselves with nothing
but the best— coopers, cordwainers, and shipwrights—
because soon we’d be shipping out,
and that’s what made our hardly souls look hardest
at their surroundings, and thus made us Puritans
internally eliciting, “This early March sun

for centuries has been kind, has given all
our winter-dirtied white houses
a unifying shine, stood no one house taller
or better, except the brick church,
into which all light, thus so
absorbed, disappears.” And then weren’t we,
in our own way, standing before thee house,
thee house filled with the most candles,

and myself, at least, believing myself
sweated of even the simplest old misdeeds,
which would weigh too heavily once at sea,
creak, so that when without a creak
my friend left as my captain in that becoming hat,
I alone said, “And there we went,
in his becoming hat, to the slippery rocks
and looked back on not our homes,

but our old selves long before
they tried us, and saw, in the distance,
what French explorers called Cap aux Isles,
meaning, ‘Point to the little islands,’
which people long did,
but were afraid, like candles, to go out.”

Scott Withiam’s second book of poetry, Door Out of the Underworld, will be published by MadHat Press in spring 2019. His poems have most recently appeared in Ascent, Chattahoochee Review, Diagram, Notre Dame Review and South Carolina Review.