Treasure Chest

Poetry by Gallway Kinnell
The Past  

A chair under one arm,
a desktop under the other,
the same Smith-Corona
on my back I even now batter
words into visibility with,
I would walk miles,
assemble my writing stall,
type all day, many sheets
of prose and verse later
to blow away, while gulls,
sometimes a sightseeing plane,
turned overhead. The lean-
to of driftwood that thirty-
three-and-a-third years back
I put up on this spot
leans down all the way.
Its driftwood re-drifts.
Spray jumps and blows.
A few gulls fly that way,
a few this. One duck
whettles out to sea
in straight flight.
As for the Quonset hut
I broke into without breaking it
when the storms came, it too
has gone, swept out to sea, burned up,
buried under, torn down.
Too bad. But for me not all
that bad. For of the four
possibilities--from me-and-it-
still-here to it-and-me-
--this one, me-here-
, is second best,
and will do, for me, for now.
But I wanted to sit at the table again
and look up and see the sea spray
and beach grass happy together.
I wanted to remember
the dingy, sprouted potatoes,
the Portuguese bread, the Bokar coffee,

the dyed oranges far from home,
the water tasting of eroded aluminum,
the kerosene stench. The front
steps where I watched
the elation in the poverty grass,
when the wind blew. In a letter
that cast itself down in General
Delivery, Provincetown, my friend
and mentor warned, "Don't lose
all touch with humankind." One day
while all around gulls gave
exhausted screams, the wind
put a sudden sheen or flatness
like spiritual quietness across the water.
Now two waves of the North Atlantic
roll landward side by side,
converge, ripple into one,
rush up the beach, making me
jump back, and sink away under
white bubbles all suddenly
popping away at once. Here
waves slap not in time but in
evanescence, a rhythmless medium.
Mere comings, mere goings. Though now
there's somewhat less coming
in the comings and more
going in the goings. Between
the two straggles a wandering
thread of sea litter
along the beach. So you see,
to reach the past is a snap. A snap
of the sea and a third of a century's
gone. All nothing. Or all all,
if that sounds more faithful. But anyway
vanished. The work of
whoziwhatzit--Zeit . . . Zman . . . Chas . . .
whatever . . . Whichever
you strike with the desperate tongue coughs up
a deadened sound, as though
the thing itself were fake; or unutterable.

Galway Kinnell's numerous books include Strong Is Your Hold, A New Selected Poems, The Book of Nightmares, Body Rags, Flower Herding on Mount Monadnock, What a Kingdom It Was, and many others. He has also translated the works of Bonnefoy, Goll, Villon, and Rilke, and has received the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and a MacArthur Fellowship. He is the Erich Maria Remarque Professor of Creative Writing at New York University and a Chancellor of the American Academy of Poets, and divides his time between Vermont and New York City.