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Charlotte Matthews


Readying for the Storm

At the naval yard, before the hurricane,
ships are put to open sea
where they rock as dark clouds build in the east,
strange as the dream of the storm
which scared you into your body,
pulled you back until you stood
so small in the sunlight listening
to the dull sound of the neighbor's mower
cutting grass in the long backyard
that juts from his house.

There's a hill where I live.
But it's more than that.

At the public park
the swings have been looped
motionless over the steel bars.
There they are,
guarded against the wind,
and all the boats,
the supply ships and frigates,
minesweeps and tankers,
sway like a person standing
in line holding a child.

I sailed all night
trying to find your voice.

Out in the rising storm
ships cannot come to harm
against the pier, the wharves.
Think of a tree felled.
It's already lying down.




Once, in August, far out on the lake
where we had paddled for weeks beneath tall pines,
searching for dead, standing trees we called chicots
as if the name itself could bring us to them,
where there was no one for days
until, portaging through muskeg,
we would pass a couple, their heads down, walking straight,
a thunderstorm spread across the lake so fast
lightning came before the cool.
Shore was far.
And it was then words came back
like an old house that finally settles on its foundation.
What we said to each other once we reached shore
must have been something about luck
or speed, I don't know, but it was that
the words themselves were filled with our listening.




In first grade we rubbed textures
on thin sheets of paper:
the impressions of cinder
block, a white oak leaf, the palm
of Mrs. Lindsten's large hand.
The smell in the hallway was always
the same and words from the
science class came up to us odd
and startling as their teacher explained
eggs, larvae, pupa, adult.
How unlike what we are doing,
as we press firmly with
crayon, how strange to first
be one thing and then another.


Charlotte Matthews' chapbook A Kind of Devotion was published by The University of South Carolina's Palanquin Press in 2004. Other poems have appeared in Virginia Quarterly Review, Tar River Poetry, The Mississippi Review, Shade, Sou'wester, Meridian, Potomac Review, and Eclipse.
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