The Sea at Rockaway


(after reading Wallace Stevens’ “On The Idea of Order at Key West”)




You have not practiced this art

In a long time,

And you’ve gotten sick

With the big words.


Find a fresh scene:

Say, on a beach,

With a pile of oysters


At a dollar a pound

Near the pine barrens of Long Island.


Go out speaking loud

On the black-bottomed boat

Your friend’s grandfather’s brothers

Once used to catch lobster.



To the keel and hoist,

And speak as well

To the sea-witch who made

Salt for Popeye.



To seven seeps of light every third minute

Off the coast,

Waiting for the lighthouse to respond.


Remember what ship, which course,

Cargo, weight, stowage, port, hours,


Because, captain, you have by this time

Drunk too much, and forgotten,


And you are just learning again

That shoals turn men into fish,

Fish into men,

That these courses are turning

By themselves, beyond your hand. 


And they are made of the ointments of

The sea, flesh sea, breakers made of ooooom

And addled scents and the warm, womby big breasted

Lashing of breakers, laying their mind to your own,

To lap kindred little smiles of the children in the seaweed,

Who do not know the idea of undertow,

Sea greed to snatch back


At its birthright, remembering the foamy tomb, the red-eyed

Sentinel crab nipping under the sand,

The hair combed, you at origins, laughter, begun.


These forces, no doubting: spindling drip-jawed jingles end,

Hard few cries begin at the beginning

When man first stepped from water

Was the same moment he fell from the trees,


But the almighty Tick spins his jimmying pincer,

And upon the beach, four feet of shark and all eye,

We pulled him up to the dunes kicking, late at night,

Smoking ‘neath a blanket in March.


He told us the long death of the gills,

Kick of the genius sea.

Breaks land and mistletoe and all seasons’ kissing and minor song,

Kicks the fast kiss, jeckles the bracken hide,

Shimmies bindle-snap haunches, planted foot,

Land elbows, current like murderous boat-feed,

Bilge tanks of cholera, hepatitis, shingles of Brooklyn

Discarded, flag-wavers of Puerto Rico and Cuba and America and other States

                     BE DROWNED!


I am in love with certain waves, crinkle-browed, kingly, collapse

Shoddy hotels.  Man and his girl rapturous

Try to sex in these waves, you’ll insert brain for the bow,

The wave struts its black-gold gusher

Crimsons your knee, mules you down, and the black cowl

Under wave after wave, be wave after wave,


Stipple the currency of men

With their short pockets,

That this gold beach (bronze only) be the treasures

Of yester-yore, and casual blankets in the beat cleat sand

Wind the fester sheets of the dead.




I have only learned of late that all this praise

Makes the sun in a bad mood,

That Sun likes these sisters and brothers burnt,

That Sea and Sun are dreamers of the eternal ounce-meat,

When all small tingling thoughts, the casual carrying

Of pregnants who do not know their insides,


When we, mood-eyed prancers of selfishness

Nesting, get a swamp-luge of sea as we sleep,

Sound out like snooty cherubs, Goddammit, the tide’s come up!

And sea makes a royal fuss, lunges to the glands


And you are just learning again

That shoals turn men into fish,

Fish into men,

That these courses are turning

By themselves, beyond your hand. 


Have you ever seen them?

Sure:  When the laying lovers

Sleep like sloth, pearls, traffic moves a pin-eye,

They sleep,


But a wave, Slap!  A wave!  Slap!  Spans

Their spackled eyes.  Sleepy?  Get up!

Yer about to be drowned! 


But they keep on sleeping, the water’s warm, and this is

Nothing they never wanted.  That’s why they’ve spent

All summer on the beach, rather than getting jobs.




I hear death by drowning is quite pleasurable; shall do it sometime;

I hear seagulls don’t eat meat, except proffered.  I hear there

Are no vultures on the sea.  I hear the lazy zones are a thousand feet

Under.  I hear man knows only four thousand feet below,

Which makes twenty-one thousand he does not know.


And should not.  For we have come this far in

Our molecular Bismarckian standoff, and even Bismarck knew

Where treaties got too personal –


     It should be so with man:  I feel a fat wave licking at my shorts,

Could break my balls in half, could snap rippling seeds to the urethral,

   Finger my eyelids till they are laugh permanent,

That is death, that is cornea made of silk,

Rum factories on the windward isle, shedding the brew

Of self, finally, shedding self, guilt, the pining for agency


And you are just learning again,

Once for all perhaps,

That shoals turn men into fish,

Fish into men,

That these courses are turning

By themselves, beyond your hand. 


                                                                                 -Christopher Ketcham