Catechism of the Sea

by Christopher Buckley
With a premonition of light the sea sang. – Octavio Paz


In those days, we accepted the spindrift
from the breakers, the glitter

On the high wings of birds as the bright
evidence of a life everlasting.

Corroboration arrives in the alliteration
of waves, a tender star or two

Clinging to the tassel-ends of heaven,
a cloud, light as our paper souls,

Cleaned and pressed like a Sunday suit. We were
given to the immaculate sands

The incomparable charity of the sky,
and in autumn, only minor

Disruptions of dust spun up at street corners,
the glint from mica and the foil

Of gum wrappers causing us to momentarily
close our eyes—as close as we came

To death, unrecognized there or in the storm
troughs spiking a slate-dark sea.

Our hearts were white as our uniform shirts,
as the wild fields of alyssum,

And I learned nothing of set theory and equations
scrawled across the blackboards

Was sent out to clap erasers, returning with the unequal
properties of silence and covered

In a powdered veil of chalk, happily, for years, taken
as I was with the wobbly grandeur

Of the blue. Now, so much lost, so much taken away
with the absolute gravity, grind

Spin and brine of every invisible law, phrases
fly out the window to no one,

More darkness recited among the stars.
whatever I’ve been talking about

No longer seems to be the point—the ocean
can’t breathe, the revisions

Of the past will never save us now. It’s all
a fog inside me, refusing to burn off,

To offer up the rote responses to the choruses
of salt testifying to nothing,

The nonsense it all comes to like the first
day of summer and school reports

For science torn from my binder and tossed
onto the winds, so help me.

Now alone, I see the clouds under sail,
embarking out there for a port

Where the air ends, where all that waits
for us is the heavy ringing of

The sea’s dull bells. Pick any five men
mumbling in their coast, drifting

On the cliff-side benches, an on-shore breeze
at their unmetaphysical throats

And see how many words of allegiance or joy
can be squeezed out at this late date.

Make something of the one palm tree whose green
fronds are comparatively glorious

And resist the graceless rip and under-tow—
it’s just that way with God.

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