Issue 30: Derek Webster
Study of a Dying Tree
Neon ants, lithe along its bulk,
buzz off chunks in the fatherless light.
From the unsupported canopy, things crawl out.
A shock to see what was always there.
The fence accordioned, its drunken slats
crushed by wooden music.
Post-lightning, on his knees,
elbows dug in the ground.
Halfway across the field, white forearms
puncture the skin of lawn.
A cloud of sawdust, hungry
and writhing, gathers over the lake.
An Old Painting of Charleston Harbor
Did the man and the boy, foreground, in hats,
walk out on the Lord’s Day and down to the shore
after the sun had passed over the indigo?
An unnamed artist has painted them
gazing toward the harbor, the boy’s arm raised,
pointing at a Rorschach spot on the water.
As they talk in the clean salt air, are they
recalling home, chasing off the scent of danger
that comes through the dark at the calling hour?
Are they humming lullabies the man’s mother sang,
singing words about happy and ruinous things
feeling the same? Or should we listen
to words unsaid—how bodies at first smell sweet
when they rot, or how, if one peered through holes in a hull
the waves could seem like rolling hills,
and a vile captain’s voice might caress and trill
before setting an example. Or how pantless sailors
squatting over gunwales might say “We’ll be there soon”
for forty days and nights—and when they reached
these much-contested waters, and the hold was opened,
the man and boy were the only cargo left alive.
This is canvas layered with colours.
This man, this boy, do not exist, are not
talking. They are framing agents
to create depth
to make the bay
for anticipated viewers
who may look (or may not)
like you and I—and in truth
it is difficult to discern
whether that is dark coat
or bare arm.
After two hundred years, if
these shapes appear—head
arm raised—to cry
out from the shore
of their captured world,
who hears them? Reader, as you
remake the prospect
of Charleston Harbor,
what do you see
in that empty spot
on the water?
Derek Webster's Mockingbird (Signal) was a finalist for the national Gerald Lampert Award for best first book of poems in Canada. He received an MFA from Washington University in St. Louis, where he studied with Carl Phillips, and is the founding editor of Maisonneuve magazine. His poetry and prose have appeared in many publications including The Malahat Review, The New Quarterly, Boston Review, The Walrus. Recent work appears online at Columba Poetry, Font, The Honest Ulsterman (Ireland), and Pulp. He lives in Montreal.
Copyright © 2023 by Derek Webster, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of Copyright law. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author