Five Ghazals from a Provincetown Dune Shack by Janet MacFadyen

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Poetry Finalist : 5th Annual Contest

Small and Simple

Driftwood wedges shut the neighbor’s shack. It’s just
what the man said: there’s nothing of value inside,
just a bed, kerosene lamp, old table, and solitude.

Tiny tiny footprints dent the sand, like ties
of miniature train tracks laid down across the desert.
Run quickly, little sweethearts: coyotes are everywhere.

What time? Still morning, I think. I saw a mouse or vole
near the bleached white sign on the rise that says
Help Save This Hill: Keep Out! And I will.

Don’t tell me about love. These walls are high, the windows
boarded up with ribs. Don’t knock on the door or come
around back. My weeping has nothing to do with you.

All is still. The gray branches of a bush are still. A droning
rises and falls, the air moves gently. There was a mouse and now
there is no mouse. The outhouse vent is spinning round.

Sand moves, the ocean moves, the shack breathes more deeply.
The mice make a house in the toilet paper roll, the life
of the world goes on. I could just live like this.



Not There Yet 

I slipped into the ocean like the shiny fish,
laid my head on furred, seal-slicked rocks.
The distant headland was alive and smoking.

There are waves of mountains dissolving.
There’s a slash of a dolphin parting the sea,
a dark turbulence— listen, someone is crying.

What will it be like to take my last breath?
the young man asked who was dying. I wonder
the same thing, faced with dying also, only later.

A rug is thrown over the body of sand,
rough pony’s hide, tufts of beach heather.
Every day I get up and continue traveling.

Not a sound. It’s gray and raw. I can’t warm up.
Acres of stubble and one stunted pine.
Wherever I’m going, I’m not there yet.

In the distant lowlands, beech trees gallop
towards the edge of the world. Dear reader, how is it
we are riding so hard and how can anyone stay on?



Stand Still

On a knife-edge of sand, where the wind scooped
out the flesh, where roots dangled and the wind spun,
time stands breathless in the mortar and pestle.

Once time still moved like a river. Once sand
was a stream: if you walked away, I would follow you,
if you came towards me, I would run.

Have you had your last laugh? Have you eaten your fill?
Stay put, old coyote, you’ve dogged me too long with those
teeth and that fur. I’m tired of running from you.

All day, the girl built her fort in the sand until
the walls caved in; it never got done. That little
girl can stop working now; it’s time to go home.

Hey you! Why do you keep running away?
Be grateful for this flock of crows chasing you,
trying to peck some sense into your skull!



Hanging by a Thread

We walked into dunes, into half trails and bare spots having missed
the way out, just towards or away from the noise of cars on Route 6.

Broad soft slopes, like flying: a woman was rising and falling
in sleep; a crosshatch of dune grass kept her from falling.

Why would I walk so far for love, only to run from being kissed?
The dunes say hello, they extend their hands with pitch pines in their fist.

Grow those cones, that pale spiky growth. Rough cones mad to tumble, sand
blasted, opened. Let the spore go where it can: life takes root in dry sand.

Right when you think you are lost the monument appears, a lynchpin
around which the town, the sand, the sea, and the sad world spin.

The trees dig in. Sand streams round them laughing: Would
you catch us with so little?
Bless this existence, hanging by a thread.



You Start with Me

We can’t go out, the wind is fierce. The grass blade draws
its circle in the sand, the sleeper’s face against the glass.

The fire is on, the stove is out. We dance with arms
around each other, spinning dervishes.

The stovepipe blasts, it is a whistle and the whistler
is the wind, the earth a single shaking room.

The floorboards torque, the doors unhinge, and all the letters
I ever sent you tumble in with bits of acorns.

Why are we quarreling over which log to burn?
Burn all these words! They’re cluttering my good mind!

All those emails waiting for me at home! There’s a lifetime
of reading right here: you start with me, I’ll start with you.




Janet MacFadyen is the author of three works of poetry, most recently In the Provincelands (Slate Roof, 2012). A Pushcart nominee, she has published in Poetry and The Atlantic Monthly, with residencies at the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, Cill Rialaig (Ireland), and the Fowler and C-Scape dune shacks.

Photo © 2014 by Stephen H. Schmidt. is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, art, commentary, and design since 1998.