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Grey Sparrow Journal

Issue 30, July 31, 2017
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THE FERRYMAN


You ask who makes an honest living.  I think

of the ferryman, though his fares seem high—

unless you bought rounds at the tavern last night. 

Then he waves you by, his right hand making

that small flourish that says, “Pass, friend ” today only.

 

He never makes enough to buy the car we covet

every two years.  If he did, he’d never waste it

on the surcharge of novelty.  He’d spend

the winter near Barbados, forget greasing the winches,

rebuilding the big engines, heaping new scars

on old scars on cold hands in a grey shed in winter.

 

You say that teaching is an honest living.  It may be.

Except those days when indolence, hangover,

hubris flatten the lecture, exhaust the argument,

make the hand heavy on the essay or head

that watches tuition, taxes, time dissolve into chalked air.

 

And writing, after all – relies on the lie

of painted words, conjuring a perfect

or imperfect world that lives only in perception,

in conclusions – the rough edges sawn, sanded,

polished like a mahogany ship sailing

sapphire skies in the twilight of imagining.

 

But the ferryman’s boat is intractably honest,

and it rubs off on him.  An idling screw turned one time

too many can leave best wishes stranded midriver,

drifting towards a dam, gorge, or other rough end. 

And if, nosing into port, his hand is unsteady

on the wheel and throttle, and he upends the pilings,

plows into the passengers impatient in his lot,

the red ink flowing then is no abstraction,

no paper loss.  Too late for revision.

 

But his hand is steady, and his eye is always true.

That is, we haven’t suffered for its blinking. 

And for those who can see it, the rough mirror

of the river recalls the selves left on other shores. 

The prow butting wavelets hints of fickle tomorrows

moving in similar shapes.  So that what is deep and still,

and what is unsettled and latent foams out behind

them like a signature of their moving

under the stained and runic hand of the ferryman.



                                                             —─David Ruekberg