Today is my fiftieth look at a birthday. For me, any kind of personal retrospective is full of signposts from pages that I’ve read.
I still remember digging through the shelves of our public library when I was twelve years old. I loved the library because they let me borrow any book I wanted, and for a week or two that book belonged to me. Some weeks I would read nothing but biographies, the next week nothing but mysteries. One week during the summer before I began the sixth grade, the librarian showed me the poetry shelves. I was amazed. I have never stopped looking for more of those amazing pages, filled with the breath records of every kind of being human.
Today, for the eleventy-hundredth time, I re-read the Bell Buoy, by W.S. Merwin. I still love it. It is a poem about markers, territories and transit. And even though I have focused this blog on contemporary writers, it seemed like a forgivable birthday indulgence to include a fifty-something year old poem from one of my heroes.
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BELL BUOY by W.S. Merwin
– quoted from: The Drunk in the Furnace
So we set signs over the world to say
To ourselves, returning, that we know the place,
Marking the sea too with shaped tokens
Of our usage, which even while they serve us
Make one with the unmeasured mist, sea-slap,
Green rock awash with the gray heave just
Out of sight, wet air saturated with sounds
But no breath- and in no time they are seen
To be in league with the world’s remoteness
Whose features we grope for through fog and can never
Seize to our satisfaction. First the sound
Comes, and again, from the caged bell lost in the gray
Out ahead. Then into the glasses,
And gone, and again sighted, staying:
A black shape like nothing, rounded, rocking like
A chair, with a gull on top. Clearer
The dreaming bronze clangs over the lifting
Swell, through the fog-drift, clangs, not
On the sea-stroke but on the fifth second clangs,
Recalling something, out of some absence
We cannot fathom, with itself communing.
Was it we who made this, or the sea’s necessity?
You can hear the wash on its rolling plates
Over your own wake, as you come near
And confirm: black can, odd number crusted
Already with gull crap over the new paint,
Green beard and rust speckling its undersides
As you see when it rolls. Nothing you can
Say as you pass, though there are only you two
And you come so close and seem to share
So much. And it will twist and stare after you
Through the closing fog, clanging. It is
A dead thing but we have agreed upon it: kept
To port, entering, starboard departing, as
May your fortune be, it can assure you
Of where you are, though it knows nothing
Of where you are going or may have been.