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The Radio Tells Us It’s Snowing in Montauk

ISSUE:  Spring 2009

It’s snowing in Montauk this morning—or so
the radio tells us—not so far as the crow
flies from where Manhattan rises on its darkness
of rock, but far in other ways: a sandy limb
of land stretching east in its fierce lace of surf
and cold circuit of sea-round stones seeming
to say go farther than I can take you—distances
are what we have imagination for.

Lying in bed in the snowless city, the sleepless
night behind, the unseen garbage trucks braking and yawning
below, the radio on low, I remember standing
on that beach long ago. There was snow then, too, soft
white glims falling out of the white sky
lining everything with light: the dead brown thickets,
the sparse and leaning pines, the motels sleeping
with their storm shutters up, their neon unplugged until spring.

It took a long time to notice the white smoke
way out on the water, fitful puffs quickly torn
across the horizon by the wind. Somewhere out
there a ship was burning—burning on the ocean
in the snow! Whom could we have told in that empty
world wrapped in the slow motion of winter?
But in the end it didn’t matter because it turned out
to be whales—although we could only see their spouts.

Hard to know if seeing the creatures themselves
could be any better than what I saw: all
human things at my back until I chose
to turn around, the tide drinking the snow
and the sand lying gently beneath it, while
in my mind’s eye those enormous bodies rose
and blew and sank, their warm blood racing
on its invisible journey to keep them alive.


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