The Agonist Journal

At the Museum of America and the Sea

The searing New England heat
doesn’t subside on the coast.
Air shimmers (or shimmies)
above the gravel paths that wind
through Old Mystic Seaport
and down to the docks.
By the boat rentals, a single
barn swallow rests on a railing
as though out of breath.
I watch him as his companions
flit through sunshine the way bats
did through dusk, before the white fungus
killed them all on our east coast.
You leave the public bathroom
with your son. It’s time to go.
At the gift shop, a man in heels,
lace panties peeking from his shorts,
hauls two screaming boys out the door.  

On Turner’s ‘Hurrah! for the Whaler Erebus! Another Fish!’

The whale’s suspended head
looks like it’s crying out,
its lower jaw dangling open
to reveal a row of useless teeth.
Maybe it’s too easy to see
a cross in the ship’s mast,
to imagine the whale a victim
bearing all the cruelty
we’ve inflicted on the animals.

Sailors in the foreground
appear to whoop and cheer,
their jerseys daubed yellow and brown,
arms raised in celebration
even if their features are indistinct.
The returning ship is a dark shape,
menacing, its keel suggested
by a single brushstroke.  


De Tocqueville narrating how
the farmers of this state would still
doff caps at gentry who passed
by coach along the king’s highway—

hard to believe, now, their Yankee
descendants scattered among enclaves
on seashore or in towns flung far
from interstate and strip-mall.

Maniacal drivers, frenzied
beyond signaling, doff no caps,
violate all posted limits, hemmed in
by sea and wood and crouched mountain.