Crossing the Folly


Spotlight trained up into this palmetto’s
frond head—sudden wild hair crackling
silvery as moonlight sliding along ocean.
By morning, wet lumpy sand; armatures
of broken whelk; crab-death; on their parchment
backs, humped, tailed horseshoes; tucked-up
jointed legs in moon-snail shell—dubious
hermits out of prayer and patience among
tangled ivory egg-cases trailed in tide,
inbreeding, inseeming, inuring not long enough.
The palmetto leans toward wind and the clean
blue light coming off-sea: wrapped in horny
dead-lace, shedding below itself gravity
of purpose: tall trunk texture near in surface
to the roughened tail of the opossum; callused
extremity, insight that does no further good—
to sway from heights, rooted unrecompensed
until its wind-blown berries begin to fall.


I leave the spider crab on its back
as the sea withdraws, many small
appendages digging among miniscule
coquinas and broken cockles.
The purple sea-whip a thin animal
because it hungers for its own and leaves
a history in a filigree of nerves that is
like a branch dragging on the ground.
The pelican circles like an eagle,
the marsh fills from the sea,
small things burrow deep that have no bone
or iridescent shell risen from soft digestive parts.
The sun lowering into a purple abyss
because I toss a beached crayfish back
into the tide and wonder what external
skeleton I need to bear the weight of nothingness.


The tide flowing out of the marsh into this channel,
cow-lick terns exhausted from twisting down through
the air for menhaden. Now I walk the littoral all
the way to Port Royal, step over protruded tubes
of clam worms, the sea dreaming only of itself,
while the salts of rivers pour into its watery mind
a narrative of cities. I can go and return. One-legged
willets in tidal pools probing their own images for
souls. The Hotel Westin, the Pelican Bar, live swans
preening on meshed-in ponds; wet heron sculptures
long-necked in a quest that has petrified. These
carpeted paths the turns into pleasantry; boardwalk,
deck; dank rows of cushioned chaise longues;
the rusted echo of summer in empty drink holders
screwed to the arms of chairs. My time here limited,
anxious, as the moon shrugs off the sea. The Folly
filled with bream. The littoral flooding toward green
panic grass; tumbling into salt the sandspur’s spiny
burrs that cling to shoes, transporting them across
the dunes. Me the prickly ambassador of the other side.

John Allman | Mudlark No. 31
Contents | Leaving Home 2001