Faces of Fishing Creek

Kyle Laws’ recent collections include This Town with Jared Smith (Liquid Light Press, 2017); So Bright to Blind (Five Oaks Press, 2015); Wildwood (Lummox Press, 2014); My Visions Are As Real As Your Movies, Joan of Arc Says to Rudolph Valentino (Dancing Girl Press, 2013); and George Sand’s Haiti (co-winner of Poetry West’s 2012 award). With six nominations for a Pushcart Prize, her poems and essays have appeared in Abbey, Anglican Theological Review, Art Uprising Anthology, Chiron Review, Cities (U.K.), The Delmarva Review, Exit 13, here/there: poetry (U.K.), IthacaLit, Journey to Crone (U.K.), Living Apart Together: A New Possibility for Loving Couples (Canada), Lummox, The Main Street Rag, Malpaís Review, The Más Tequila Review, Mead: The Magazine of Literature & Libations, misfit magazine, The Nervous Breakdown, Pearl, Philadelphia Poets, Pilgrimage, Relief, r.kv.r.y Quarterly Literary Journal,  St. Sebastian Review, Turtle Island Quarterly, Verse Osmosis, and Waymark. She is the editor and publisher of Casa de Cinco Hermanas Press


Below is an excerpt from her verse novella, Faces of Fishing Creek.

Clara: Bates, Descended of Whalers, Sells Me the First Section
of Fishing Creek After Joseph’s Failure at Woodbine, 1926

Bates thinks I traveled to this village like the tide over sand bars,
a long distance between high and low, coming from Odessa

to be a mask for Wildwood Villas, my name on the first tract,
each lot sold by my husband with a covenant

restricting use to “the white or Caucasian race.”
I beg Joseph not to write the deeds that way as breezes blow

across the mudflats that smell of weakies, blues, and flounder
that will jump onto any baited hook.

I become a perpetual nag, a hag, while his brochures
extol the high ground of once-plantations, advertise bungalows

with four rooms and a porch, outdoor plumbing, artesian water,
and a lot—all as low as $300, payments taken.



Clara: Anna Akhmatova Was Born 1889 in Odessa, Ukraine

Odessa, where Joseph and I meet shopping for lace
on a narrow street,

tops of buildings where shopkeepers sleep leaning
to each other as trees.

I carry a book of Anna’s poems.
Joseph says I can take her with me if I will leave.

He will bring Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin.
And they will write to each other on mornings

washed by a sea like the quartz they call diamonds
gathered at Sunset Beach.



Joseph Writes: Of Darkest Wildwood, 1927

And our young poet — Olga fired him…
he fell in love with darkest wildwood

Alexander Pushkin, Eugene Onegin, Chapter Two, XXII

What I know of women, I learned from Pushkin.
What I know of Clara is that she’s become
Olga and Tatyana, Onegin and Lensky,
characters Tchaikovsky made into opera.
And they never end happily.

She is one for whom dawn rises as spring catapults
to summer, as horseshoe crabs make their way to lay
eggs in the sand, as she carries sheaves of poetry
to the hull of a cabin cruiser wrecked and washed
up in a March nor’easter.

She will never attach to this shore in the way
she did her beloved Odessa. Never attach to me
as a wife should to husband. Her attraction to lost ships
hides an unhappiness with the place I’ve named Wildwood.
To all the world a success, but we silent and unsatisfied.


Clara: New Year’s Day, 1927

after Anna Akhmatova, “The Guest”

My brother whispers with Joseph in the dining room,
heads bent over the blond mahogany table and a plat

of the lots of Wildwood Villas. I mix cocktails in the kitchen
from the Canadian Club brought in on Gabby’s outboard,

the one used to pick up shipments intercepted by the Coast Guard,
same Guardsmen who drink in the saloon where Gabby tends bar,

where they talk about where cargo is dumped over drinks.
He serves them the same bootleg whiskey they think destroyed

by the winter rough of bay. We pretend we don’t know, but do.
We think we’ve changed, but have not.

We think this new world is different from the old.
We think the waters of May we dip in—before the flush

of those escaping the cities—purifies us.
We think this covenant restricting use to the Caucasian race

is somehow not wrong, somehow the harbor of liberty
we sailed through on our way here.



Joseph Writes: No Harm, 1928

Her father…
could see no harm in books; himself
he never took one from the shelf,
thought them a pointless peccadillo

Alexander Pushkin, Eugene Onegin, Chapter Two, XXIX

Harmless as the spear for hunting whale,
as the perch above the dune where the watcher
kept his watch for any show of water from a spout,
harmless as the nor’easter that undermined shacks.

That way of life was almost gone along the bay
when Pushkin penned Eugene Onegin,
when that novel in verse changed our literature,
brought what happened in parlors, fields,

and coastlines onto the page in a language
everyone could understand, and then the stirrings
began, the dissatisfactions under the surface
like the submerged whale waiting for breath.

These once whalers, a kind of royalty,
will live with the common of cities in their escape.
Pushkin will take over where once Longfellow
was read by the light of oil, as I string wires
for electricity from bungalow to bungalow.



Clara Writes: Leave, 1928

Oh enchanting little town of riddles,
Though I love you, I am mournful…

But I don’t like the hour before sunset,
The wind from the sea and the word: “Leave.”

Anna Akhmatova, “In Tsarskoye Selo, 1”

As I lie in bed alone,
listen to the lap, lap on shore,
this high tide a long way
across the ripple of sandbar,
I plot how I can live
in the swath of grass,
become the protrude of ears
of a fox in the dunes.

Today I walked south
below where whalers
first shacked and rendered
what was beneath the skin,
so up river they could light rooms,
the women mend and darn,
the men keep their account books.

I knew I had gone too far
when the bath of sun became a voice,
“you have overstayed your welcome.”



Clara: Words Rise Up, 1930

The longer I’m here, the more our Russian words rise up
off the page and look back to the Black Sea of Odessa.

For it is Anna’s poetry I read, hers the voice I hear.
There are no operas, ballets or symphonies by Tchaikovsky,

but a private world where I can dream who I want to be.
Instead of the street noise of trolleys, there’s the chatter

of gulls as they swoop to follow fishing boats back to poles
where they tie up, rest at odd angles as if questioning

where they’ve been left—I the cocked motor pulled forward
into the slush of bay and gasoline in the bottom of the boat.

I wait for another tide as I pour over deeds in a language
just outside my reach. Are they telling me I can build

as far out as the flats lay bare at low water? Use stilts
to move closer to an opposing shore?




Clara Writes: Sins of the House, 1931

Having forgiven me my sins, he fell silent.

Anna Akhmatova, “Confession”

My sins are of the house I do not hold as center,
the marriage not sacred, the children not my all.

I came to this gradually, nothing to tell me before
other than I was not charmed by dolls as other girls.

I spent most of my time outdoors, school where I did well,
not figuring out how to clothe and wear my hair.

When I arrived from Odessa, women had cut their tresses,
wore shorter dresses—stocking seams and calves bared.

Hems fell along with markets of real estate and stock.
Now, back where we began, there’s no other way

to get by honorably except marriage,
especially if you are born poor.



Clara: Returning to Stream, 1933

The Consolidated School in Cold Spring needs a French
and German teacher. I have applied.

I will ride to school with the children of town if Joseph
cannot find me a car. It’s that, or I have to leave.

I know this is his dream, and I thought it was mine too,
an Odessa in America.

But this is no cosmopolitan port city where I learned
languages from across the world.

Schellenger Landing sailors stumble on their English tongues
as if the language were not their own.

I prefer the whistle at noon that reminds me it’s Wednesday.
And it’s time I stopped these thoughts

because I might convince myself I do not belong, and I do.
I was meant to be here from the first time I saw Joseph

on that crowded city street. My feet have learned these tide lines
as if I were born in the estuary of Fishing Creek,

as if I swam out into the bay with my first blood,
as if I were a salmon returning to its stream.



Clara: This Likely Too Will Fail, 1933

He spoke of the summer and he also said
That for a woman to be a poet was—absurd.

Anna Akhmatova, “We met for the last time…”

I am chattering as a crow in early morning
or sparrows in the pine at dusk.

Out of nowhere, Joseph says that for a woman
to teach French and German

is absurd—as if he’s been reading Anna.
I snap back that it’s not the Depression

slowing sales, but his own bad luck.
This development likely too will fail

as Woodbine did—not that long ago
or as far as the kestrel wings across creeks.

I do this in both German and French,
not sure if he can follow.

“At least they’re going to pay me,”
I shout as I slam the door.

He afraid of losing me.
Me afraid teaching won’t work.



Joseph: Seeking Asylum, 1935

Mornings, I rise late, Clara already gone to school.
I find her letters on the kitchen table,
letters we write to each other every day
even though we could as well talk.

They are in French, a language she writes
better than Russian. I pull the dictionary hidden
in a drawer under the table because she asks
to see translations in both Russian and English.

I am her best student, the one to whom she can write
what she cannot say, what she cannot be on a peninsula
at the end of a state, at the end of a journey,
we pilgrims seeking asylum in the quiet of trees.




Joseph Writes: Before Dawn, 1936

and when, by misty moon, the east
is softly, indolently sleeping,
wakened at the same hour of night
Tatyana’d rise by candlelight.

Alexander Pushkin, Eugene Onegin, Chapter Two, XXVIII

My Clara awakens before dawn,
when she hears the rustle of the fox,
when the first gulls begin to call,
when men untie their boats from poles
as the tide moves in.

As if floating in the mouth of the bay where salt
balances fresh, she arches her back and stretches
to welcome the day. This, how she welcomes me—
to the clatter of a fishing village about its work
as if nothing has changed in 200 years.

Waters where whalers once hunted from boats
as small as those to rescue the errant from undertows.
But Clara knows the currents well enough to swim
at the edge of sleep. And I have learned to embrace
what fades like a moon as the sun rises through leaves.



Clara Writes: Winter’s First Hard Freeze, 1939

The willow spreads its transparent fan…
Perhaps I should not have become
Your wife.

Anna Akhmatova, “The heart’s memory of the sun
grows faint…”

Not willow, but mimosa
on the sides of an unpaved Delaware Parkway
named in the first deed.

Not champagne and orange juice
served on Sunday,
but pink fronds on Wednesday.

This, our re-creation of a bathing resort
on the Black Sea. This, what you promised.
What I have come to love more than our union.

How could I have known
there’d be something in the night breeze,
something that would come between,
something more than our children I will leave.

Something that could be faith—
the way wind sweeps up the bay in row
upon row of frozen waves as far as I can see
as if a god’s hand stopping them from the fall.


[image: Portrait of Anna Akhmatova (1914) | Nathan Altman. Oil on canvas. In the collection of the State Russian Museum.]

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