by Carl Nellis
In Beverly there is a bell that does not cease to ring.
Gulls weep and shout at the rim
of a vast ocean.
The world is in parts
a bronze cup to set lips to,
a house of sticks and stones.
Mother Mary would swim, I think, were
she carrying to term today the body
of the boy. She would be thirsty,
wrapped in a towel and smiling,
wearing water shoes,
perhaps not self-conscious
as she walks the seashore rocks.
The thing to drink is the very sorrow
and joy of what the light from the sun
stands on. In the middle, in this din in waves, men
walk about on two legs,
balancing on boat hooks
and eleven inches of soles above vessels
of wrath. Like beavers they built a church
called 'Our Lady Star of the Sea',
mounded mud, wove sticks,
reached beams, laid stone on stone:
a tower carved with her name.
They are sailors. Shrimpers. Oystermen
gnawing on this:
were she here,
there would be that greater guidance,
there would be that hope
that home is worth knowing.
Anger is here
plastered to their foreheads
when they cross the dock to the door.
The mouth of the sea gurgles
at the cliffs, like a mouth in mud
that would swallow them,
though they would not feel it.
The birds, the bell they built themselves
hung in the church tower makes
the call that would wake them,
though they could not move.
failure to respond,
marks the precarious course.
halting through Arithmetic, they strained
to know the music of round numbers,
untaught in Aramaic, dressed in denim,
to memorize in the universal
tongue. But weak, and salt laden,
and too seaside blind,
and too young,
they lit out where a single
breath would loose them,
without kindness, without compass,
into the next unitary current,
the movement and communal
passage of a waveform
through every stiff and brittle,
rigid, fluid, pallid, vivid
which they cannot describe,
and so damp.
Sound, perhaps the laughter
of the girl. The cry, the gasp
of surprise, terror. She?
To be the mother?
Were all the ocean to flow through her?
She may chip the paint, chewing at her nail.
Maria, the seas.
The eyes that see the diffusion
of light from a dusky charcoal shoulder,
shoveled into the furnace so that heat
can crawl up the unseen tunnels, gaps
between the stones, and the air
within the church mysteriously grow
warm. The sun, a star itself,
would show a pregnant girl in a seaside town
her way to the double doors,
and candles would take her from there
to the altar rail, where she would lean,
fidget, itch, and bow in prayer.
But all of this is here for her.
If she, today, were born, and he still only the glow
on the belly of a singing bowl, the whisper of white
wings carrying each calling bird on its wayward course,
each son of sleep in its floating,
this tower, this bell, this hope
would be still two thousand years in the future.
Other shores would be built with temples in her name,
birth navies and magic shows.
Other men would walk in lines to let themselves heal
of the ocean's unsoftened indifference in the warm sanctuary.
The language, the star, the sea. Latin would not be spoken
by worshipers, as Hebrew has been
forgotten, as Greek, as light has gone
unseen, though it moves through gold foil,
reaches a hand, takes the
the stern and center point that some men call
still, and turns it.
Twists it, that it might talk.
She with one foot on the tower stair
Breathes it, that it might sing.
Lodging in the air
Taps it. It rings.
An unchewed thing, a hand in prayer
Bends it. It gleams.
A whole horizon seen from the topmost place
Begets it, that it might walk.
as a child hung with the lights of heaven
to the eye, ringing to the ear and smoking
in incense, he comes to the sea itself,
The source of all wave forms
steps from beneath the planet's tilt,
from the upholding place to the rock
against which every sound must crash.
Water will lick it, like deer for salt.
The sun will burn it, in the name of all light.
The spin that keeps the balance of the tides
will plead teary-eyed to be allowed
the further usefulness of mathematics
to deserve the thrill, to know it.
He will call all these in a voice both brazen
Men will walk under rain, though he commands
their iron wills to rust away with anchor chains,
to be freed in the smile of the sea,
Yes, where gulls wheel and sing,
where the winter cold ocean stirs and hails
a cup, a vessel, a homebound way,
God in his body by reflection,
She, in what is called advent,
felt it first. We, passed through with every wave
now feel what was felt.
He himself is the ringing bell.
Thanks to James, for 'Sailor' and Eliot for 'Burnt Norton'.
Carl Nellis is a steadfast friend, an excellent writer, and a beardly editor based in Beverly, MA. A graduate of Gordon College, he enjoys tea, music, frisbee, all things Scottish, and all things literary. His profound and beautiful poems can be found at: http://laughingoverthesea.blogspot.com/ .