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  • Great Bay Estuary
  • Ernest Hilbert (bio)

Chuckling gulls luff up to swipe and hangIn muggy air over the riverside'sDeadfall—jagged white as a splintered ice-flow.A tern goes and returns like a boomerangAcross the scene. An Eastern Kingbird glidesBeside a dock cemented with guano.

The dock's slats tilt down, disappearing at the endTo rot in slow water. Nearer, a marsh wrenSways on a thorny stem. From the northwest,Curving along the broad river's bend,The startled dart of a fierce-winged merlin,Scouting out or returning to its nest.

Four decades ago I plied these watersWith my father—he at the helm, runningIn early haze between black-tar banks:"Jibe ho!"—the aluminum boom swings as my father'sHand draws the tiller, the wake's V following—A metal rattle as my father cranks

The winch—the thrill of holding on as we heelAnd the sideways world is wind and bulrush,Ghosts of petrified white cedars standingApart out in the endless mud, our keelRoiling the black bottom. In the murky hushOf dusk, we arrive at the familiar landing . . . .

Beyond the sandy downstream knolls, beholdA summer flotilla of tundra swans.In strobing depths beneath the broken dock,Elegant Venetian galleys of gold-Finned pickerel row through rays to bronze,White perch arrowing silver around a rock [End Page 204]

To the sun-ruled surface where stratocumuliLoom in to warn of an advancing storm.A sad and majestic eastern red cedarBushes over the brown current, berryClusters dusty-blue, a funerary formLeaning to its mirror in the lessening light.

Fires smolder, far off. The ancient rough-shieldShell of a diamondback terrapin bobsOn a soaked log sideways in the slow stream.Scum from brackish water dims its battlefieldPolish. All that floats here—flaked bark, knobsOf old limbs, cola cans—drawn as if in a dream

Toward the Great Bay and the sea beyond.I lie in bed under cresting waves of wool,Steering my ivory sloop with sails of iceIn the New Jersey sunset—a reed my wand;Its tufts a dirty, living gold—the pullOf memory, time-consumed sinking of sights

Once solid. The stars are out already,And I go down where swamps sieve water shedBy the pine-stands and tangled low scrub, a sightThat gathers around the cloud-flood horizon—I seeEverything, all around, going red a while, ledTo my bedside in the last of the light. [End Page 205]

Ernest Hilbert

ERNEST HILBERT's latest collection of poetry, Last One Out, appeared in March from Measure Press.



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pp. 204-205
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