Jennifer O’Grady

July 25, 2016 OGrady Jennifer



Having just arrived, we are walked down a moonless

boardwalk cutting through seagrape and orchids

and whatever wasn’t lost to hurricane or frost

is dark now and trembling in the cool night air, then


down to a beach that erodes each winter, shifting

with our weight as we step on it, still warm, and go

to the place where water touches land, soft

and mutable shoreline of this barrier island


he has chosen to live on, against our better judgment.

The ocean waves roar like wild things freed, pounding

the sand and washing away footprints, the anonymous

leavings of anonymous lives, while my father,


a little stooped now, stands apart, as if waiting

for our approval, or merely thinking his own thoughts.

A huddled black shape, blacker than the night

so we know it’s really there, with the clear silhouette


of a pelican’s bill a few yards away

sits motionless as a tourist taking in the view

but mixed-up, here at the wrong time of day, and

Don’t go any closer my father says, for somehow


he knows this bird is no visitor but one

who’s come to take in his last view of earth,

the place where desire or memory brought him

and from which he must know he won’t rise again,


and we stand awhile, marveling as his perfect calm,

the near regal set of the old weathered bill

that points straight ahead toward an indistinct space

through which we can hear the rush of each wave


coming closer every moment, as if they can’t wait

to reach him and carry him back to their home

and he waits, as if it’s his purpose and his choice;

then my father shepherds us all away,


moving more slowly but just as determined,

and we step on the boardwalk and follow him back

through stubborn survivors of wind and loss

to the place where he knows he belongs.

Jennifer O’Grady’s book White (1999) won the Mid-List Press First Series Award for Poetry. Her poems have appeared in Harper’s, The New Republic, Poetry, The Yale Review, The Kenyon Review, The Georgia Review, Southwest Review, Green Mountains Review and many other places, and have been anthologized and featured on Poetry Daily and The Writers Almanac. Also an award-winning playwright, she lives near New York City. (