Wharf by Temple Cone
Was my father’s word. The rain-warped wood,
a shoddy ladder stretching from dank sand,
lured me as a child. Some nights I stood
watching the far shore, my back to the land.
I’d see oyster scows on the river, home
after a long day scouring empty beds.
Looking for cast-offs, gulls trailed like foam,
starboard lights flickering a burnt-out red.
The planks were speckled with nettles, ghost-trails
gaffed and laid aswirl to dry in sun.
A broken road. Ossuary of scales.
Bridge the builder couldn’t fit to span
water the wind wrinkled like a crumpled page.
When winter storms tore gaps as big as boys,
I’d help my father, or rather watch him, patch
old wood with new. He’d fit blond boards to joists
stippled with rust blooms where the nails had been.
Hammer curled back like a bright steel claw,
he squared up wood-screws and drove them clean.
Better hold, he said. Once, I’d had to bow
over the edge with him, to scrape barnacles
from a piling. I asked if he worried
the pier wouldn’t last. One flick sent shells
into the waves, and he straightened, a board
himself. Hand to the sun, his face grew dark,
fixing me for a moment in his glance.
It’s a wharf, he said, then bent to his work
again. And I have not forgotten since.