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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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