Leslie McGrath


That rusty zipper, the Pawcatuck river
fastens Rhode Island to Connecticut down
to the sea. Its rotting docks cantilever
over oily water, trellised
by greedy bittersweet, sumac.
Once a working river, it slinks past
empty mills and factories like
friends it’s fallen out with.

Our flat-bottomed skiff skips
like a stone over mossy waterweeds
waving in the ripples as we approach
the river mouth. A congregation of swans,
heads under wings, dozes in billows
where fresh meets saltwater. Napatree hunkers--
an altar dune. Which sacrament
for us, a pair whose union’s younger
than our youngest child? We wed
on these waters, and each autumn
we return to our vows like scavengers--
skimming past obedience, past
perfection, alighting here.

We drop anchor at the bight
and wade ashore. A storm surge left its mark
along the dunes, disgorging a constellation
of starfish, and in the saw grass—
in grasses tossing in hushed conversation—
hundreds of horseshoe crab sloughs
speared like canapes. Its purpose served,
each shell releasing at the moment
when growth’s curve exceeds the need
for protection from the world’s innumerous dangers.
Each small crab grew according to plan:
its intricacy expanding, the tender form
exactly the same, but larger.