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The Old Man Washes His Boat, Ballycotton

Elizabeth Biller Chapman

This bay––where long ago my friend caught
a basking shark with just a line, no rod––
its long green water and the nesting cliffs
of spring:  We will look back on this day, hilled
like the cantle of a saddle, the street
mysteriously named The Cow, where
a yellow Lab puppy sniffed our hamper
holding smoked salmon and ham.  We pushed
the chair (my husband’s blue baseball cap
and soft sweater worn at the elbows) down that
grassed path, a single table at the edge––
small kee-yawing of choughs and hawthorn’s white
billowing seas in the hedgerow
shielding us from wind that once had blown
a lovesick lady who would row her skiff
across the strait to her beloved
keeper of the light.
                      Now as we ate
he nibbled on a sandwich, sipped his soup
politely waiting for the chocolate we’d set in the shade,
“no complaints,” despite the apparatus invading,
and weakness of breath.  There was a red dory
opposite amid the Queen Ann’s lace, its black keel
showing.  Gannets rode the breeze, watched
an old man bring his bucket full of sea
up along the pier, then slosh and scrub, debarnacle
the bottom.  He made many trips,
not noticing my clamber on the stone
shingle; the five bleached cockle shells I picked;
my husband’s upper lids, lowered.  The old man
plies his trade, his wages earned: a clean boat.
Is labor prayer?  Our arms around each other and
the noonday tide, its brightening and dimming.