Epistle to F. D.
This morning when I turned from sleep, I found
You in my thoughts, a boy with other boys
On Philpott St., where you swapped bread for words,
Though I was only there as in a dream.
Settled by my mother on the matting,
I learned from her to spell my words and read,
Syllables flashing in my mind like sails,
Like royals and moonrakers snatching light,
The letters gleaming in a mystery
Of change, as if in contra dance where hands
Are joining in new patterns, make new shapes
Like stars that waltz to music of the spheres.
How could it help but be all metaphor?
The joy of it, each clutch of letters joined
To stone or branch or water’s glittering
Has left some smear of brightness in my mind.
“Dear little boys” near Bailey’s shipyard served
As teachers—hungry boys who wolfed your bread
And gave you words and freeborn sympathy
When every thing that lived, the roadway stone
Or branch of apple blossoms, glitterings
Of distant waves beyond the mallet strokes
Of dockyard men who joined the ribs to keel
All shone and spoke one silver word to you,
The curled, triumphant horn of liberty:
A name to trumpet news, a spiral whorl
That whispered skysail freedoms to your ear.
So many years ago, sea captains steered
Their wind-borne ships to Africa and swapped
A coin for flesh. Time flees and stalls at once,
So somewhere is a girl whose flesh is free
To loveless men, who dreams of liberty,
Though she is caught in coilings of a net.
The sails beyond the harbor snagged the light,
Ships wandering at will of wind and wave:
Your dream grew silvery and metals-strong.
At night the starlight flittered on the sea,
Flicking here and there, as free as sparrows
Who flit and fly and gather table crumbs,
Then sleep like flowers, thoughtless and at peace.
But you were restless on your narrow bed
And anxious in the watches of the night,
The North Star like a bonfire in your mind.
Editor’s Note: Blank verse shows off its grace in this poem to stunning effect. The repetition of “liberty” and “light” adds to the cascade of imagery, supporting the narrator’s voice as the poem’s form spirals into itself.