David Mason







14 July 2011



Where does a life go? Can’t

answer that, can’t go

where the holy rollers go.


I like the clouds, though,

above the hills at Brecon.

As trees are clouds,


as blown roses

and my love too, all cloud,

all rain, I reckon.







After a shift of killing crab by thousands

you punch out in the dark companionway

and walk the plank from hull to gravel quay

to make good use of the last rain of the day

for squinting into, booting it by the sea.

The lives you held in your hands


were split in two, but were they really mute

when legs and claws went into the boiling bins,

when brain and back were ground to a fine powder?

You walk the thought off, leaning into the wind

as onto the rocks the surf pounds harder and harder.

Death is never remote.


It follows you like a brother in ptarmigan hills.

Death in the ruined bunker of somebody’s war

where shattered glass and condoms strew the floor,

the whistling wind and tapping strand of wire.

Death in the drunken fisherman’s stony stare

and the storm of mewling gulls.


Death in the open stench of a rotting seal.

Death in the bleached tangle of driftwood limbs.

Death in the sunken fleet in Captain’s Bay

and the bay itself where schools of sockeye swim.

Death in the weather having its rainy way,

the way you learn to fail.


For sooner or later the shore will turn you around.

You follow its edge to the steaming barge where you work,

rain in the work-lights, beams in a driven cloud,

death in the daylight, death in the coming dark,

death in the song you forgetfuly sing aloud

over the shell-covered ground.




Lieutenant Mason



You have to stuff it all back in,

the gut from a nicked



That’s what the surgeon’s skill

was born to do.

To put it all back in

and close the wound.


When the shell hit amidships

none of your aspirations

mattered any more—


pried steel and oily fire,

boys who called each other men

screaming, their obscene



and that was blood running

from your ears, and yes,

among the parts

awash in spume


over the teak deck,

a penis like a jellyfish,

and the scuppers

gushed blood,


you’d never seen so much of it,

and there was nothing, nothing

you or anyone could do

to put it back.


But you have to put it back.

You have to put it back,

and try hard not to talk


for fear of what will spill.

You have to make each knot

meticulously right.




That’s how a lifetime passes,

closing, re-closing the wound,

a million stitches tied in time

denying and re-denying


until you learn to let

it lie and let

it weep,

and open.



from Sea Salt: Poems of a Decade: 2004-2014 (Red Hen Press, 2014)













Colorado. His books include Ludlow: A Verse Novel, The Country I Remember, Arrivals, News from the Village, The Scarlet Libretto and Sea Salt: Poems of a Decade, 2004-2014. Co-editor of several textbooks and anthologies, he has also published two collections of literary essays. His work can be found in such periodicals as The New Yorker, Poetry, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Times Literary Supplement, The Irish Times, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Virginia Quarterly Review and The Hudson Review. He has written the libretti for two full-length operas, The Scarlet Letter and Ludlow, and the oratorio Vedem, all with music by Lori Laitman. a one-act opera with composer Tom Cipullo is forthcoming. And Davey McGravy: Tales for Children and Adult Children, will appear in the coming year. A former Fulbright Fellow to Greece, Mason divides his time between Colorado and Oregon.









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