Monday, June 12, 2006

Epitaph For A Light Keeper

A small cemetary sits on the lee side of the cliff
adjacent to the old light. The headstone, gray now,
fouled by weather and salt mist, is never graced
by flowers. It tilts a bit to the right where the ground
has settled unevenly; its epitaph, still legible, reads
His life was determined by edges.

Born on the cusp of two centuries he endured
fifty-five years on the fringes of life;
toiled daily on a windswept cliff
keeping the beacon’s beveled eye
blinking at the rock-toothed shoal
sixty-four yards offshore; timed its eclipse
each night, secured its clockworks.

His fingers tempered into gnarled twigs
from years of contact with chill wet and salt;
yet grew dexterous, learned in different ways
to snug a screw or secure shoreline rip-rap.
He became intimate with the lamps and lenses
he polished, filled with oil, wicked; his back
bowed from bending into it, and from heavy
buckets lugged several times each day
up spiral stairs to the lantern room.

His tongue stilled as he learned the language
of waves; how to time the tides by the sound
of its rest or surge, and when a tempest
would thrash the coast. During the day
he dreamt about people he’d never meet.
Unable to entice a wife he forged friendships
with gulls and seals, adopted stray cats.

At the age of seventy-six the Lighthouse Board
retired him; said he was frail and forgetful;
replaced his vigilance with an automated switch
and sent him back into the living swarm
he’d long hungered for but did not fit. After a month
he said he missed his family then bought a boat,
sailed off the edge.

copyright 2006 by cookala


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