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O C T O B E R   1 9 8 9

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FOR THE SAKE OF RETRIEVAL


by Linda Bierds


Hear Linda Bierds read this poem (in RealAudio):

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Also by Linda Bierds:
The Weathervanes (1996)
Windows (1994)

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As Whistler heard colors like a stretch of music --
long harmonies, violet to amber, double hummings of
silver, opal -- so, in reverse, these three in their capsule,

free-falling two hours through the black Atlantic, ears
popped, then filled with the music of Bach or Haydn,
might fashion a landscape. Low notes bring
a prairie perhaps, the sharps a smatter of flowers,
as the pip-notes of sonar spring back to the screen
in little blossoms. They have come for the lost Titanic

and find instead, in the splayed beam of a headlamp,
silt fields, pale and singular, like the snow fields
of Newfoundland. On its one runner blade the capsule slides,
slips out through drift hummocks, through
stones the ice-age glaciers dropped, its trail
the foot-thin trail of a dancer, who
plants, glides, at his head the flurry

of a ship's chandelier, at his back a cinch-hook of icebergs
cast down through the winds of Newfoundland.
The music these three absorb
stops with the wreckage, with words
lipped up through a microphone:
flange, windlass, capstan, hull plating, then oddly, syllables
at a slant, as light might slant through window slats,

stairsteps, doorknob, serving bowl, teacup, Bordeaux.
Mechanical fingers, controlled by the strokes
of a joy stick, brush over debris, lifting, replacing.
In jittery strobe lights, camera lights, all colors
ground down to a quiet palette,
angles return, corners and spirals
pull back to the human eye -- as if from some
iced and black-washed atmosphere, boiler coal,
a footboard and platter, each common shape
brightened, briefly held for the sake of retrieval.
The current spins silt like a sudden storm.
With the intricacy of a body the capsule adjusts,
temperature, pressure. Someone coughs, then the three

sit waiting, as in Whistler's "Sad Sea"
three are waiting. All around them are dollops
of winter wind, everywhere beach and sea. No horizon
at all in this painting, just a grey/brown thrum
beach to sea. How steady his breath must have been
on the canvas, his hand on the brushstrokes
of lap robes, of bonnets and beach chairs, the pull
of a red umbrella: each simple shape
loved and awash in the landscape.



Copyright © 1989 by Linda Bierds. All rights reserved.
Originally published in The Atlantic Monthly, October 1989.

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