Three Poems by Carl Boon

Mercy Flows

Grandfather said Mercy
flows from these streams.
His ragged voice, the voice
of corn blown asunder
by November, always stuttered
Mercy’s M but capitalized it.
A man who gave mercy
a fierceness, he’d saunter
among the woods for days
with nothing to eat save pone
cooked in smoke, the way
his ancestors had, rebels
and the Catawba, their blood
a part of his, their bones
mingling in the family plot.
We listened to him because
when he spoke he looked down
and when he invoked
the Gospels he looked ashamed.
I wanted to be him.

I wanted to be gray-faced
and hated by the Yankees
in the suburbs past Carleton.
I wanted to gnaw sarsaparilla
and think of death as a yonder
where the redwinged blackbirds
carry messages marked secret.
I wanted to be him, lathe-ace,
comrade, maker of moonshine
before the mayor intervened.
Bowling captain, baritone
in the Baptist choir, learnéd
though unread. Too bad his world
would never be mine; too bad
Bill McKinley never went
more south than Lexington.

The twentieth century’s coming
and we are dying. Oblivion’s
a thing that never matters.
The old man died lucky.
The old man died in a suit.

This won’t be conveyed
in your histories. It won’t be told
to boys in Cleveland, Detroit,
New York, or San Francisco,
boys whose dreams conclude
with baseball and California.
They won’t know the way
we cornered fidgety sows,
the way his kisses tasted
of whiskey, or why he leaped
toward the soil when the world
was immersed in automobiles.
Blunt, particular with the angels
and a ball-peen hammer,
he made things only he
could use: hammocks
for the brokenhearted, pipes
of bad design, a jigsaw puzzle
from a chess board he baptized
Kill the Pawn. Sebastian
did stupid, but he did it with glee
and his own satisfaction.
What more might you ask
of a man? What must remain?

The Sandpiper

lives forever. Watch it dance the line
where the breakers subside to harmless foam,
where even a child could skitter
should her mother look away.

Maybe at the pilings of the Avon Pier
there’s some ado; maybe a boy from Baltimore’s
got lucky with a Salvo girl or hooked
a tremendous ray that knows

the secrets of this ocean. He eats well
in his thoughtfulness: the fleshy undersides
of sand fleas, the occasional strand of mullet
some fisherman’s disregarded.

Were he not a bird, you’d envy him, you
who love to tell your neighbors in the North
of risk, of crosswinds, riptides, and the hurricane
you escaped in 1986.

You might’ve died, you tell them,
but all the way from Currituck Beach
to Ocracoke nothing besieged and
the sandpiper worked its usual work —

the back and forth, the ceaseless yearning,
the instinct never withering once. It lives
where you cannot; its foes carry useless swords;
the aptitude within it swarms

high tide, low, gale or nor’easter. It was
a pretty thing to study as a boy, a sonnet
without sestet, a small thing in the sand
that always succeeded. It was America.

The Sea Turtle

The sea turtle emerges
just after dark

aroused and stunned
by difference.

Its instinct overwhelms
its substance;

its line to the water
death and possibility

in equal parts. Nothing’s
graceful in need;

everything succumbs
to sand, to wind,

to constant realignment.
The poem, too,

through which it passes
as it seeks to remake

itself: Job to predator,
pacifist to satisfied.

In its minor wake
remain twin notions

of solitude and greed,

and the ruthless moon-
light guiding it. All these

happen soundlessly;
all that matters

in the world we miss —
we, who swallow oysters

and laugh too loudly
at our neighbors’

nightly indiscretions
here on Hatteras Island.

About the author

Carl Boon is the author of the full-length collection Places & Names: Poems (The Nasiona Press, 2019). His writing has appeared in many journals…

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Issue 24 · Autumn 2021

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