Art by Jeff Joyce
summer. season before the start of life
apart – those years I suppose we were
proving the existence of something
beyond us. we walked along the jetty rocks
in full sun, what high tide would swallow
up a few hours after we watched the slow orange
shape of a fox lope through low pickle
weed, diving for crabs wherever breath
burst through the transient shore. later, strangers
stared at us in the street, beach giddying
up each small expression of desire
between us, arms bracing each other’s shoulders.
in the language of statues, this pose
would signal love, some mortal wound, or both.
In the end, it was any little thing:
which arrangement made the old shoes fit
best on the rack in the new apartment,
a tone you would take whenever you’d talk
to the cat about her unstoppable
urge to scratch, my too-many boxes
of books and papers I’d amassed, believing
home was something you had to carry
on your back. You carried all that stuff
that was mine across state lines
in a U-Haul times before, driving me
away from you in selfless devotion.
An ocean between us was not enough.
Love was our island. First paradise,
then, we were stuck. Sometimes, I catch myself
wanting to return, though that whole life
is drowned now, like the ancient kingdom
in the myth. If we wanted, we could live
there, still. Could start walking our separate
paths toward the water, guided by the lunatic
certainty of treasure hunters: one day,
we’ll find everything we lost at the bottom.
Early on the longest day, the young locals of the village kept up their ancient pagan ritual. Gathering flowers. Each of them had that glow that comes from drinking too much sun the nightless night before. Not burnt, just gold. We strolled jasmine streets down to where grass becomes beach to watch them raise the phallic symbol. Kids in needlework vests and skirts raced around its center, shrieking laughter. Falling into pretend death. Someone won something. What? Applause and songs. We did not understand, but mouthed along as if we knew the words. Stole glances in our own language. The circle our hands had held broke from people struggling arms out from starched sleeves, loosening button knots to doff their folk dress. They rushed toward the soft waves, naked as horses. We walked farther off through the patch of pine and aspen to find where shore broke into the line of gray rocks. The jetty was bleached by time and dyed by tide returning. At its final boulder, we stripped in full view of each other and dove to meet the cold fjord. Across the channel, a small white boat was burning on the water. Our distance rendered it silent. The weeping face of a wax saint. Like everything, it had given up its shadow.
Daniel Barnum’s poems and essays appear in or are forthcoming from West Branch, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Muzzle, Bat City Review, The Iowa Review, Salamander, Best New Poets 2020, and elsewhere. Their chapbook, Names for Animals, is available from Seven Kitchens Press. They live outside New Haven, Connecticut.
Jeff Joyce was born in North Carolina and attended the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He moved to New York City in 1979 to study at the New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture. His work was first shown at the East Village gallery Piezo Electric in the 1980s. Joyce has participated in exhibitions organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the Harn Museum of Art, and the Weatherspoon Museum of Art. He lives and works in Connecticut.