Selections from The Undertow

Surf CasterThe Undertow


Again and again you cast into the sea.
I watch your eyes, intent under the wild brows,
the careful swing of your arms. Nothing,
again nothing. The blue I saw
was a phantom? You say no,
fish have their own laws,
like grammar of a cloudy language,
and try as we might we'll never know it.
So I have to learn
not to be sorry for an empty line,
its three teeth clean and bloodless,
a morning spent to no purpose
but beholding the habits of the random,
or better, getting used to seeing you
do what you love best (or second best),
your body and mind tuned to lifts and drops,
the long wait for a grateful rapture.



Too Late


It's too late to become a ballet dancer.
At nine, I could execute piqué turns
like a dervish, faster than the other girls.
My arms were supple as grass. But now
I get a little dizzy, trying a turn
or three in the kitchen when nobody's home.
Look what happened to poor Zelda Fitzgerald,
practicing arabesques to a scratchy record
of "Valencia." It only goes to show—
if age doesn't get you, bad taste will.

It's too late to become a famous actress.
I teach, therefore I act, especially reading
poetry aloud, hoping to move
someone to tears or fright, or to stop
their chewing gum and staring out the window.
But always I feel I may have gone too far.
A student praised me once, on a course survey,
"Ms. S. can do so many interesting accents."

It's not likely I'll be a nuclear physicist,
although I was once overjoyed to learn
how small the nucleus is, hanging inside
its atom like a dust mote in a basilica.
I realize now that what I know of physics
is like a dust mote inside the whole round world,
and that what fascinated me at twelve
was disaster, always just about to happen.

My awe was a useful substitute for religion,
but not, alas, the real thing. Nor will I

become a singer, although I have sung
and occasionally receive a compliment
from someone who doesn't know much about singing.
High D is gone, taking high C with her,
and good old B-flat isn't what she should be.
Now and then, singing along with a tape,
I'll note a curious wobble, like cooked spaghetti,
underneath my usually bang-on pitch.
Oh, it's the car, the bumpy road, I'll think,
but no, it's something else. Neglect. Age.

There's still time to be a decent cook,
a glutton jeweled with the glaze of manners,
eager to please while pleasuring her mouth.
I used to say I'd rather write than eat,
but now I'm not so sure. To love a word,
wine, for example, is to love the thing
itself, as well as the occasion—
voluptuous evening hour, sybarite friends—
that stirs it into shimmer, so that reflection
tastes the same as a life without regret.