Two Poems // Sean Sutherland
Downtown with Sandy
A blood winter sunrise singes ocean,
rusted into pink granite on islands
no one has ever lived on, up far coast Maine.
Empty quahog shells on those pine forest floors
like mouths pried wide open with alarm;
too late to warn of something you will see.
When your young life might be at the edge
of events or in one. Ghost story in the old stone house.
Friends see a blue light first, then a man rise up
from the far side of the bed, a blue lantern
in his hand as if coming up from cellar steps.
A residual haunting is energy trapped in time.
Landfall, and a storm enters the harbor twilight
in huge black clumps. The top unfinished floors
of the highest building are engorged with the sound
of sheet metal ripping, the wind sheer accounts
of thousands of tuning forks just before silence,
as the gale rises, and the island is about to close
its gates. The streets are a blurred stoplight red.
Car alarms call to car alarms, call to car alarms
like owls calling in the forest about how they
can see the hawk of time overhead.
The dead want me to know they have sent me home
past the cop in galoshes and shower cap covered hat
just as the bridge closes and they are alone again.
Back there where I leave them screaming,
where they can’t do what you and I can still do;
go bankrupt, or be startled by the cold of your lover’s
feet in bed.
At the end of the block,
Rafik the fruit vendor will say,
“Good, thank God,”
when I ask how he is.
And his thanks will last
as long as the white
sparks that drop
in the morning light
from the elevated train
He tells me, “If I sit
on this crate,
I will fall asleep already,”
as his pointer finger
spirals down in loops
from the underside
of his baseball cap
down to his chest
to show what a man
looks like falling down.
I’m hung over for weeks now
from exhaustion and red wine,
from trying to capture purpose by day,
only to turn away from it by night.
I still look out from
the forty odd years of my life
and wonder why I’m here.
And because I have no answer
I walk each night
to where the city has given out
and lost its breath.
Past the corner where
the day workers
from South America wait
who hope to carry a hod
of cement or planking,
each with a far off stare
that asks to be of use
like the one I return them;
if ever expressions could speak
they would say, “So much seems to happen
without me more each day, each week,”
past the vinyl sided houses
of the Italians and Irish,
who left their rose bushes
to the Vietnamese and Colombians,
where a girl on a bike, startled,
looked up at me yesterday:
she had scanned up and down
the street, and just decided
there was nowhere to go
in her oversized hand-me-down dress,
Her eyes followed me,
and in them I recognized myself;
alone and expectant.
And I walk past the sidewalks that turn
to rubble, then to sand, then to dirt,
to where a crooked wooden pole
stands between three streets
without signs, rising
like some totem to Nothing
honoring Nobody, just to stand there
with its silver weather-beaten self,
more part of this street
than anything else,
which is what I long to be.
I want to give up my story.
I want to see whoever
made me in the light that shines
on faces gathered
at a card table in the middle
of a dark summer street.
At the end of the day
after we stand
and listen for a while
to the anonymous
surf of the Brooklyn Queens expressway,
I ask Rafik to pronounce
his daughter’s name,
and after the third time
we say it together
just to hear her with us,
and the fourth time
we repeat her name,
it sheds any mortal
meaning, and blooms
into a name for creation.
Sean Sutherland is originally from Maine and is currently studying with the poet Philip Schultz at The Writers Studio in New York City. His poems have appeared in the literary magazines Prick of the Spindle and The Meadow, and he is the director of the reading series Verbal Supply Company in Brooklyn, NY. He is a MacDowell Colony fellow, and has had plays of his produced in Maine, New York City, and Los Angeles.