for Arctic Explorer Donald B. MacMillan
Provincetown, September


All summer, town kids pose at the edge
of the pier named after you

and leap. I’ve just flown home from Baffin,
Mac. A month of spotting polar bears,

lecturing on tundra as raw wind shrugged us off,
then winter chased us down the coast.

But it’s still season here, and so I’m at the gangway
loading a boat to look for whales. 

Boys dash between pickups. Girls strut
the edge, do the same. No one throws coins for them,

but I know you jumped for the bright glint
tourists threw, and (I’m sure) for the thrill

of being watched do it. These kids leap
to break the hot September days and because tonight

they might find themselves midair, recorded
by some out-of-towner’s gadget and posted online

for view-count and comment, their currency. Would I
have strutted, have jumped at their age, yours then? I can’t decide.

At high tide, their knees are eye level from my place
on the finger pier. One girl wears a silver bikini. 

It shines like ice on the horizon. I can’t help but stare.
Suddenly, I see it is desire

that links us, that galvanizes
the thin substance of our ambitions.

More by Elizabeth Bradfield

Why They Went

that men might learn what the world is like at the spot where the sun does not decline in the heavens.
—Apsley Cherry-Garrard
Frost bitten. Snow blind. Hungry. Craving
fresh pie and hot toddies, a whole roasted
unflippered thing to carve. Craving a bed
that had, an hour before entering,
been warmed with a stone from the hearth.
 
Always back to Eden—to the time when we knew
with certainty that something watched and loved us. 
That the very air was miraculous and ours.
That all we had to do was show up.

The sun rolled along the horizon. The light never left them.
The air from their warm mouths became diamonds.
And they longed for everything they did not have.
And they came home and longed again.

Learning to Swim

after Bob Hicok & Aracelis Girmay

Now forty-five, having outlasted some of
myself, I must reflect: what if I hadn’t been held
by my mom in the YWCA basement
pool, her white hands slick under

my almost-toddler armpits, her thumbs
and fingers firm around my ribs (which
is to say lungs), held gently as a liverwurst
sandwich and pulled, kindly, under?

What if I hadn’t been taught to trust
water might safely erase me those years
I longed to erase or at least abandon care of
my disoriented, disdained body? I might have

drowned instead of just ebbed, never slid
from given embankments into this other
course. 
             Drift and abundance in what
she offered. The wider, indifferent ocean
of trade and dark passage not yet

mine to reckon. And so now, sharp tang
of other waters known, I am afloat, skin-
chilled, core-warm, aware of what lurks
and grateful to trust and delight
in our improbable buoyancy.
 

Lesson VIII: Map of North America

redacted from Smith’s Quarto, or Second Book in Geography, 1848, p. 17

     division

     division

                           general divisions

                  opposite
cluster     clusters         What considerable number

 

Where is
                           Where is Cape Farewell?

 

What sound leads into            the largest

         What  What  What  What

Boundaries  Bound United      Bound
          the    New    ?       Bound      possessions?

        What  What  What  What

prevails

        What  What  What  What

races  What   race    ?

Related Poems

A Grave

Man looking into the sea,
taking the view from those who have as much right to it as you have to yourself,
it is human nature to stand in the middle of a thing,
but you cannot stand in the middle of this;
the sea has nothing to give but a well excavated grave.
The firs stand in a procession, each with an emerald turkey-foot at the top,
reserved as their contours, saying nothing;
repression, however, is not the most obvious characteristic of the sea;
the sea is a collector, quick to return a rapacious look.
There are others besides you who have worn that look—
whose expression is no longer a protest; the fish no longer investigate them
for their bones have not lasted:
men lower nets, unconscious of the fact that they are desecrating a grave,
and row quickly away—the blades of the oars
moving together like the feet of water-spiders as if there were no such thing as death.
The wrinkles progress among themselves in a phalanx—beautiful under networks of foam,
and fade breathlessly while the sea rustles in and out of the seaweed;
the birds swim through the air at top speed, emitting cat-calls as heretofore—
the tortoise-shell scourges about the feet of the cliffs, in motion beneath them;
and the ocean, under the pulsation of lighthouses and noise of bellbuoys,
advances as usual, looking as if it were not that ocean in which dropped things are bound to sink—
in which if they turn and twist, it is neither with volition nor consciousness.