Sherod Santos

East to the Lighthouse's Shiny Glass Cabin



I have known this place before

a room I slept in all my life

the wood smoke smell the lobster boats

setting off at dawn

their cabin lamps aglow

light on the water and the weather clear

never clearer in all my days.


Was that too much to ask

a life lived in the hills above

everything then worth living?


No more than a girl

I imagined things in the dark out there

in the airless dark

I thought it'd be the death of me

little did I know

that it would be the death of you.


Hand in hand we sat on the pier

and watched the tidal pull

I never thought to ask if you would promise me

a word or two if I had asked

I would've put my heart in it

my whole heart

if only I had thought to ask.


A uniform in the closet hangs

and somewhere in the house a voice

unheard of one day comes alive.


Tiny little thing all jaundiced and raw

out into the world before his time

tiny little thing with tears for eyes

pop him into the window like a loaf of bread

bread smells rising from the window

rising from his body as he warmed in sun.


I took the weight of him in my arms

weighed him warmly in my own two arms

held him as a mother holds

a feeling beyond the weight of him.


My god the loneliness they could hold

those little hands his only hands

cupped like water in his two small hands

every day from the window borne

the loneliness in his two cupped hands

his father's boy his father's eyes

somewhere in the house his father hangs.


Heavy as a stone how many times

I wished him out unbirthed before his time

send him back the way he came



It's wrong to say I didn't have the nerve for it

I all but did when the need came on

who did I think I was to take myself away

something living needed me.


All that summer I had him to myself

heavy as a stone then lightening.


Widow-birth the worst of it

tea and toast and mother's milk

mother may I still?


A little snatch of sleep then stroll him down the shore

sea suck at the pilings gray sea foam

sweeping the sand the last time out

rain turned the water green.


I dreamed a time I found him once

no more than a boy one winter's evening

kneeling at the fireplace with his bathrobe on

an aspect I thought of prayer

an aspect I thought of some obscure devotion

in the warmth before the fire.


And then he reached to place it there

a little toy soldier

laid it out in embers by the fire

better off dead I thought

and that was not the worst of it.


My far-gone mother's mother held a photograph up

and said consoling things

poor stranger she couldn't recall your name

what was his name

you always called him Jack

don't say

was there another war?


What was that day what hour round

the corner came I just looked up

and there it was the sun above

the breakwater when the telephone rang.


The head came out with a cry

out from the dark his inwardness upon him

an armful of his inwardness

white gowns passing making up the room.


I almost said

when will his hands his father's hands

when will his eyes his father's eyes

only faintly stirring from the outside in.


Cradle to crib he cried

and nightly sang himself to sleep

a song I taught him I suppose as time wore on

as moonlight crossed the bare wood floor

from that window there to this one here

until I had enough of it.


They came to me their eyes withdrawn

and arm in arm walked me to my room

and focused my attention

and made my way

one early winter evening with the curtains drawn.


Soon thereafter they were gone

all gone.


It was my way of seeing things they left behind

my monologue

if ever I could finish it I might sleep through

just as they had promised me

burdened by myself alone

as much at home as anywhere

burdened by myself alone

one early winter evening with the curtains drawn.

Poet, essayist, and translator, Sherod Santos is the author of six books of poetry, most recently The Intricated Soul: New and Selected Poems (W. W. Norton). In 2005 he published Greek Lyric Poetry: A New Translation. He is the recipient of the Theodore Roethke Memorial Prize and an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He lives in Chicago.



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