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On First Sighting A Man


ISSUE:  Summer 1981
The widows seem curious, as do the young.
The ships have come, full of them, these men
with flat, symmetrical frames. How bored
the married women are with them, no one can say.
Wash hangs on the line, white flags
not of surrender or peace: they signal
something more. Do they miss their men?

Can you miss a place you’ve never been?
I remember waking once, the sharp chill
of Stockholm stinging from my sleep, harbors
crowded with so many ships the water seemed
precarious, superfluous. I was waving goodbye
to my mother and thought only of my setting
at the table. My meal. How I wanted it saved.

I’ve never been to Sweden, but wish I had.
In the same way, or in a different way,
these women will embrace men at their stations;
I wonder when they hold their frigid limbs—
which threaten crumbling at the touch—do these
men stand up to their imaginings? The washboard,
the stiff sheets hung out that won’t dry in snow,

that stay cold when you sleep on them, if they
resemble the shape of men they’ve lost,
who’d want them back? I can’t guess
the logic of it, but I can love the harbor in a storm,
the way loose planks fly up from the wharf
and strike the anchored ships. I know what harm they do.
I’ve never been to sea. But I could learn to care for it.

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