Whatever Walden is to me—we swam there two Julys—
I hope to skirt that never-ending trope,
Drowning like a pilgrim in that pond.
We pushed past mothers and their kids,
Cedared summers in Wellfleet cottages,
Past foreign languages that hummed across
The narrow circle of that one dirt path
Tossing stones from their home countries
On a mound that almost sanctified
An eclipse of the Old Manse.
One Japanese devotee, his beard
A gnarled shrub in sandy soil
All the way from the hagiography
Of Tokuyama City, bruised by
The crowd, the boom boxes, the concrete
Latrines on his holy shore, pushed past
The diapered, dapper beach
And in a mud-stuck tortoise’s
Mammoth shell found a native genius
Wallowing in some self-made myth
We saw beneath the wooden footbridge.
That was Nobuhiko, my old friend,
That was 30 years ago, and now I am
Alone the swimmer in dead center
Who treads the 90 feet beneath,
The sun clarified by a few lingering clouds
That filter him, buoy him above
The silt-free water. A quarter mile out,
Floating on his back, ears under, going
Nowhere fast, he finds the mind
Slung in a parenthesis of sky, as if his head
Were helmeted by the entire stratosphere
That leaves him nowhere, leaves him fast
Pulling toward the one canvas bag
That holds his shades and mask,
Glad for the ring, the click that offers him
The promise of a door, two dinner plates,
Two lit candles, one old dying dog.
Stephen Haven’s fourth collection of poems, The Flight from Meaning, was a finalist for the International Beverly Prize for Literature and is forthcoming from Slant Books in 2024. His poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, North American Review, The Southern Review, Salmagundi, The American Journal of Poetry, Blackbird, and other journals.