Robert Pinsky

At Pleasure Bay

In the willows along the river at Pleasure Bay 
A catbird singing, never the same phrase twice. 
Here under the pines a little off the road 
In 1927 the Chief of Police 
And Mrs. W. killed themselves together, 
Sitting in a roadster. Ancient unshaken pilings 
And underwater chunks of still-mortared brick 
In shapes like bits of puzzle strew the bottom 
Where the landing was for Price's Hotel and Theater. 
And here's where boats blew two blasts for the keeper 
To shunt the iron swing-bridge. He leaned on the gears 
Like a skipper in the hut that housed the works 
And the bridge moaned and turned on its middle pier 
To let them through. In the middle of the summer 
Two or three cars might wait for the iron trusswork 
Winching aside, with maybe a child to notice 
A name on the stern in black-and-gold on white, 
Sandpiper, Patsy Ann, Do Not Disturb, 
The Idler. If a boat was running whiskey, 
The bridge clanged shut behind it as it passed 
And opened up again for the Coast Guard cutter 
Slowly as a sundial, and always jammed halfway. 
The roadbed whole, but opened like a switch, 
The river pulling and coursing between the piers. 
Never the same phrase twice, the catbird filling 
The humid August evening near the inlet 
With borrowed music that he melds and changes. 
Dragonflies and sandflies, frogs in the rushes, two bodies 
Not moving in the open car among the pines, 
A sliver of story. The tenor at Price's Hotel, 
In clown costume, unfurls the sorrow gathered 
In ruffles at his throat and cuffs, high quavers 
That hold like splashes of light on the dark water, 
The aria's closing phrases, changed and fading. 
And after a gap of quiet, cheers and applause 
Audible in the houses across the river, 
Some in the audience weeping as if they had melted 
Inside the music. Never the same. In Berlin 
The daughter of an English lord, in love 
With Adolf Hitler, whom she has met. She is taking 
Possession of the apartment of a couple, 
Elderly well-off Jews. They survive the war 
To settle here in the Bay, the old lady 
Teaches piano, but the whole world swivels 
And gapes at their feet as the girl and a high-up Nazi 
Examine the furniture, the glass, the pictures, 
The elegant story that was theirs and now 
Is part of hers. A few months later the English 
Enter the war and she shoots herself in a park, 
An addled, upper-class girl, her life that passes 
Into the lives of others or into a place. 
The taking of lives--the Chief and Mrs. W. 
Took theirs to stay together, as local ghosts. 
Last flurries of kisses, the revolver's barrel, 
Shivers of a story that a child might hear 
And half remember, voices in the rushes, 
A singing in the willows. From across the river, 
Faint quavers of music, the same phrase twice and again, 
Ranging and building. Over the high new bridge 
The flashing of traffic homeward from the racetrack, 
With one boat chugging under the arches, outward 
Unnoticed through Pleasure Bay to the open sea. 
Here's where the people stood to watch the theater 
Burn on the water. All that night the fireboats 
Kept playing their spouts of water into the blaze. 
In the morning, smoking pilasters and beams. 
Black smell of char for weeks, the ruin already 
Soaking back into the river. After you die 
You hover near the ceiling above your body 
And watch the mourners awhile. A few days more 
You float above the heads of the ones you knew 
And watch them through a twilight. As it grows darker 
You wander off and find your way to the river 
And wade across. On the other side, night air, 
Willows, the smell of the river, and a mass 
Of sleeping bodies all along the bank, 
A kind of singing from among the rushes 
Calling you further forward in the dark. 
You lie down and embrace one body, the limbs 
Heavy with sleep reach eagerly up around you 
And you make love until your soul brims up 
And burns free out of you and shifts and spills 
Down over into that other body, and you 
Forget the life you had and begin again 
On the same crossing—maybe as a child who passes 
Through the same place. But never the same way twice. 
Here in the daylight, the catbird in the willows, 
The new café, with a terrace and a landing, 
Frogs in the cattails where the swing-bridge was—
Here's where you might have slipped across the water 
When you were only a presence, at Pleasure Bay.