Lyric Poetry Award - 2007
This morning on the municipal fishing pier
the homeless are filming a movie on the stairs
called lunch, featuring dried fish. I only mention
the marines because there are so many of them.
In the water, surfers in black wetsuits sit on boards
that blur blue-green among the reaching kelp.
A cormorant surfaces beside the line the surfer
ties to his ankle to keep track of himself.
It seethes in the small waves. The surfers seem like men
at desks. They steer into the wave to stay deep.
They are almost asleep in their boards.
In this quantity and at this distance
they look like several foreign alphabets.
A wave goes blind over their heads.
The next wave pickpockets them to shore.
It is deep enough to freeze, cold to drown.
Water gulfs around the pilings, brushes my shadow
against barnacles that remind the pier of its decay.
The cormorants climb out of the dark cellar.
If you were delicious, they would dive after you
with powerful small webbed feet or leave only a feather.
The problems of language are mostly solved
in the fish's gutting on the public sink, and thrown to sea
lions by the old woman with a fierce embarrassment for a hat.
A little girl staring at a mackerel cut in half and bloody-boxer
face runs to daddy I'm scared. She reminds me that terror
has a place here, in the beginning, among the strange messages.
An angler throws out a line and seven hooks shine like carnival
The ocean may not have a center but here are its margins.
Soon this poem will be over and I'll go back to the car,
wheel baby across the difficult tracks,
the ice in my soda barely melted.
Srikanth Reddy on Ed Skoog
"The ocean may not have a center but here are its margins" writes Ed Skoog in his gentle and observant poem "Pier Life," and the speaker of this lyric testifies to the eccentric beauties to be found at the margins of a world whose center remains fugitive indeed. Like a 21st-Century Elizabeth Bishop who has somehow managed to assimilate (or insinuate?) himself into the middle-class, mainstream American dream, this speaker steals a spot of time from his everyday duties in order to observe and memorialize the quotidian marvels of the municipal fishing pier: how the surfers waiting for a wave "seem like men / at desks" (what wry lineation!), how "the next wave pickpockets them to shore," or that gorgeous moment when "the cormorants climb out of the dark cellar" of the sea.
Throughout, the world is recorded with a quizzical tenderness, a fond regard for "the old woman with a fierce embarrassment for a hat." And, though there is true humor and playfulness in this work, it is haunted as well by an awareness of "time's winged chariot drawing near." "Soon this poem will be over and I'll go back to the car," writes the poet, deftly introducing a sense of internal time to his work of art, in which he will "wheel baby across the difficult tracks, / the ice in my soda barely melted." The ice in his drink may have barely melted over the course of this lovely and lyrical exploration, but the proverbial frozen sea within us will have surely begun to thaw.