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  • After the last trip,

    he tipped the barrow and left it

    down to the shore, where she’d be handy.

    She set a chair beside the table

    under the window looking down the hill,

    stacked the second best dishes in the cabinet

    and the chipped enamel mugs on the hooks above the sink

    plenty of years in that if you mind and keep it dry.

    He set the flat stone on a bucket by the well,

    to hold her steady when the wind come on,

    she’s a dite dented but the handle’s fine,

    the axe and a spare bow saw blade just inside the door,

    a jar of nails on a kitchen shelf.

    Ready. Don’t you see? Just in case.

    Bound to be back soon,

    soon as the weather’s fine

    in the fall maybe, set the kids ashore to pick the berries,

    swing by on a low drain tide and dig a peck of clams,

    and certain in November for hunting season.

    I see him steady the bow as she stepped aboard

    waited till she settled and shoved off

    the rhythm of the boat and the feel of the oars in his hands

    all familiar

    all like so many times before

    only the leaving was new.

    and he'd of looked ahead as he rowed

    the way a fisherman does

    and she'd of looked back

    her eyes following the path

    along the shore

    through the field

    and home

    and in the winters,

    no one to shovel back the snow where it lay in drifts

    banked high along the walls,

    no one to knock the ice where it dragged down the eaves

    bowed the gutters

    no one to notice where the wind worried at the shingles

    no one to right the frames where they warped

    or replace the cracked and broken panes

    in the summer the grass grew rank and matted as an uncombed pelt

    saplings and brambles filled the fields

    until only scraps of rusted wire and rotted posts beneath a tide of spruce marked the pasture

    and stone lined pits where proud houses stood

    I walked the shore with the old man once

    shoved our way through rose and alder thickets

    He looked up the hill, shaded his eyes,

    “Seems I remember,” he said, squinting

    “A path across the field, along the shore and home.

    And here.” We looked down at the wild scrap of rocky beach.

    “The fish house, the New York House we called it. Right here.”

    “See?” He wouldn’t take a hand to scramble down the steep bank

    dusted off his backside where he slid

    found his hat

    stalked the wave worn ledges looking for his dignity

    scuffed at the black spatters where the tar dripped

    after they dipped their nets in the smoking cauldrons

    “Not like that plastic shit they use now,” he grumbled.

    “There oughter be a well, just along here, best kind of water.”

    But the flat granite top was gone, and the well,

    lost in a welter of tumbled cobbles.

    Didn’t stop us looking,

    him among his stories

    and me among the jumble of broken stone and thistles.

    We stood there for a time

    I rememberedhow I used to dig through the old cellar holes

    Siftthrough the wreck of lath and plaster,

    Shift cracked chimbley bricks and rotten beams

    Here was the kitchen;

    Shattered plates, an enamelware mug,

    Here the shed; axe heads, candle molds, brass fittings,

    The graphite cores from batteries.

    And the bottles,

    bubbled glass in green and brown and aqua;

    Bitters, three-in-one oil, perfume, vanilla extract, Newfie rum

    “Benjoy? I ever tell you’bout the time the warden come after me?

    I had a Ford, Model T. “

    I listened to the waves and the words and thought;

    All that is soft wears away

    The vessels remain

    hard-edged foundation stones

    bubbled glass

    and, after the killing frost, the old path appears,

    across the field

    along the shore

    and home

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