How to Use a Sextant
I. The horizon and the celestial object appear steady if the
sextant is on a moving ship.
The mood of the fish tank, waiting
in some humming vacuum.
I float like an astronaut
toward the banking earth
immune to its noise;
a still bell
holding an inverted poise.
Somewhere a buoy clanks and clears its note.
II. On one side there is the view of the horizon; on the other, the celestial object.
While things drone one
like air conditioning
out of the current of sensation, in
It's a trap:
at attention contracts
its tightening ring
as an old black and white set
snaps out of its socket.
But now you wake to the regularly scheduled program.
I left the blind dog
his twitching nap
but filched his fetid breath.
III. An artificial horizon is useful when the horizon is invisible.
I savor each image
in its fading gravity (your fervid mouth slightly open
at my lips slightly open for example).
IV. The index arm moves the mirror
The dream wafts away
astray like an untamed word
as smoke rises from the ashtray.
What once was this weary minute
will fall in with its concentric herd,
to the center of the clock.
It's shock of burred static
but there will be no dirge-
the angle emerges, the sextant points on
if you can believe it
(how can I believe
word? it's all illusion
except the vanishing act).
The stench of the bilge and the sea's slow press
and this smoked shadow are what I possess.
It is night on my island, and in the calm
after the shouts and songs of what's for sale
the yellow rectangles in the tall apartment buildings
disappear one by one.
The people walking the bay in twos and threes and fours,
pushing their strollers, talking into the air, walking their dogs, kissing their lovers,
are slowly going home, to leave the bat to count its pace in a slow sleeping breath
like a mother who sleeps lightly, waiting for her children to come home.
The children leave the island for the city center, on buses and in taxis,
for the hip-bumping rum-downing scenes of downtown.
I could be out there, too. After all, as my mother says,
La juventud es pa' divertirse. Vete bailaindo y tomando, nena. But I don't go;
I am trying to write my poem.
In my house,
the lightbulbs sing a buzzing wait
for the sons who will be out until five in the morning.
Recording of Elizabeth Bishop reading “Filling Station”
A sea of seated pilgrims,
clad in somber overcoats
and hats, long only for
Between, even within, lines
the lector sojourns in a hull
of her own locution, dutifully endures
- and more than once -
that someone’s antiphonal cough
like the slap of an errant breaker;
in its wake, the hush prickles
with static until she resumes.
A surging laugh after
“Someone waters the plant, or oils it maybe” –
and the swell smoothes her voice
over a chuckle to tie off the rhythm
so,” guiding each stitch’s s
around the next
until it is sound.
Marina Read Weiss has work forthcoming in Boston Review, Circus, and Timothy McSweeney's Internet Tendency, and has received the Academy of American Poets' University Prize and a Fulbright grant. She read poetry for Dominic Luxford at The Believer, and she had the good fortune of working with Terrance Hayes, Daniel Hall, and the late Craig Arnold.