Robin Beth Schaer

At Home

The copper carries my wishes.
A storm snapped a dozen trees
the week you left; the same

straight firs cut for masts.
The gazette held no word,
no sight of your sails. Each week,

my fingers traced columns of ships—
Flying Cloud, Lion of Waves,
Golden Empire—with titles

broader than their beams,
bold as thoroughbreds, as if
a name could seal a fortune.

My mind slipped to the ocean
floor, littered with wrecks.
I placed silver coins

beside your picture and knit
scarves until we received
the rattle and whalebone

swallows. I send you handshakes
in return. Our son was born
this winter: eight pounds

and eager thirst, no fever.
It was three days of labor
with compress of nettle

and yarrow leaf, every knot
in the house untied. His ears
are tiny shells, hands in fists,

your brown hair. The cradle
is drawn with yellow dories. 
For your birthday, a party

without you here: spongecake
and cherryade. Hope you were
given bread and molasses.

My love, remember, the polestar
is not alone, but twinned,
a pair of suns, guiding you North. 


At Sea

Outbound in ballast, heavy
with gravel that smells of home.
Our quarry emptied out

in another hemisphere’s bay.
I saved a stone from the hold,
the shape your elbow makes

in my palm. Thirteen weeks
without anchor, only canvas
and straining rope; twice,

I breathed the solace of pines
in wind, carried off an unseen
coast. Our constellations slip

under the horizon as we sail
beyond God. My skin will never
be white again. Two men

already are lost, one swept
over by following seas, the other
slipped from the mast. Below

the Tropic, man-sized birds
and tinsel sky are real, but a grave
beside you would be a fable.

Here, the Horn is lord, with ice
and swells high as the crosstrees.
For passage, we promise apples,

penguin hides, even our thumbs;
given now, or taken eastward.
Both crosses can never be calm.

The Pacific will bring us ashore,
to walk unswerved for more
than a yard, and a holyday

of turnips carved into flowers,
plum duff, and wooden hymns:
a charade that only deepens

the absence it bends to hide.
I would rather pray for sleep
and enough wheat to come home.

Robin Beth Schaer

Robin Beth Schaer’s work has appeared in Tin House, The Paris Review, Bomb, Denver Quarterly, and Washington Square, among others. She has received fellowships from Yaddo, Djerassi Resident Artists Program, Saltonstall Foundation, and Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She teaches writing at Cooper Union and Marymount Manhattan College in New York City, and worked as a deckhand aboard the Tall Ship Bounty, a 180-foot full-rigged ship lost during Hurricane Sandy. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, the writer Anthony Tognazzini.