At Moody’s, the Wharf Hotel,
in the last small village on the Head,
a man is reading poetry aloud.
Until last night, until he said
that he was leaving,
we’d known him only as the one
who stood sometimes at dusk
on Ocean Beach, casting
for whiting and for silver bream
and then came in to drink a beer or two
in the half an hour before closing—
until, that is, someone had asked
just what it was he did all day
shut away in his tiny weatherboard
or simply sitting in the yard.
to our half-request,
he is sitting on a high stool at the far end of the bar
and all the rest of us are standing round,
doubtful at first, but slowly strangely moved
to find our Head a place of mystery and dark.
Who would have guessed
that such serenity could rise
from boats and nets we used all day
or that we could feel such sudden, unfamiliar love
for things we’d never seen?
Who would have dreamt
such beauty, or such bristling life
lay hidden in the promontory scrub,
or thought that on that beach
a man could talk so readily to God?
Between the poet’s hands, it seems, appear
not papers, but rustling birds, or fish
that move as if the smoky light
were water, or were shifting leaves.
The pages turn, and on them are not sounds
but things, not lines
but memories and dreams:
worlds open, where we’d thought were fields
and teeming forests where we thought were trees;
forgotten loves, like great red flowers
bloom painfully within us
and slowly our sceptics, like our joking, cease.
Later, when Moody
has reluctantly called time,
we issue down the wooden steps
and quickly scatter in the dark
impatient to hold our sleeping children
or to see again
our oldest, most familiar things
convinced that they have somehow changed.
Tomorrow, perhaps, not all may think so,
in a dozen darkened rooms across the Head,
the unaccustomed words will circle us
like feathers, or like flashing fins
or a hundred other visitings
of sudden, unexpected light.
Urban Elegies, Island Press, 2007
© David Brooks