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  • Caravaggio’s Bent Narcissus
  • Kevin Prufer (bio)

And then I went down to the shore       to watch the ship fail in the shallows. It tilted in the sun on a rotting keel, the topmost planks gone white in the salt breeze,      the foremast split where the wind undid it, billage swamped and rotting + [End Page 28] where my friend the boatswain floated with his gear. I have been these years + a friend only to the birds and things that burrow in the sand – frigate dove, spermcrab,      a kind of cormorant I'd never seen before, and so named bloodbird for the shock of red across its skull The boatswain – +     he spun in the brine in the ship's full belly where he dove one day to fetch a length of rope           and caught his foot, so could not re-emerge. I missed him so – my friend, whose skin grew loose around his bones.             Each night + came rains and wind, so every dawn less ship remained. Soon, I knew, I'd be alone no longer –           a stormsurge would rock the keel from its wedge of sand, would dash it on the stones,      and thusly break the boatswain free + so he might drift toward shore, limbs slack in the storm-tossed sea, red hair fanned like lotus weed around the sleeping face,           and eyes that never twitch beneath doll lids – [End Page 29] + his gentle body into an inlet where it could sink – +                where, one day, like Caravaggio's bent Narcissus, kneeling down to rinse my hands, I'd spy his strange, attenuated face           peering up through silent water, so I might bring it to my own to drink.

Kevin Prufer

Kevin Prufer is the author, most recently, of Fallen From a Chariot (Carnegie Mellon). He is the editor of Pleiades: A Journal of New Writing and, with Joy Katz, Dark Horses: Poets on Overlooked Poems (U Illinois P).



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