George David Clark
The dead trees are marching out of the ocean,
trailing their roots through the sand,
dredging long crooked tracks up the beach.
Pecans and pin oaks and cypress,
their dripping cerements of Spanish moss.
One navigates the boardwalk
bowing against the handrails like a drunkard.
Others wade through the marsh awash in fog,
through the tall wild grasses, cattails, and sea spray.
And there is not anything now
that we can do to stop them advancing
on this slumberous three-storey house
not two hundred yards from the sea.
I have numbered the gray hours
between myself and the lights
coming on later tonight across the bay
(to the west: lights on Wilmington Island;
northeast: Hilton Head; and between them:
the undersides of the clouds, lit for a moment
as they skirt the Thunderhead Marina).
They are seven windy hours too many.
Grandfather, off chemo for the last time,
his cancer now of the everything, is living
as I am with my aunt in this, her enormous house.
For exercise one or the both of us take him out
twice a day to eat. First, always at six-thirty,
to The Sunrise where the waitress, whose pretty
name is Julie, asks if he wants his regular.
My grandfather is a man with a regular
at a little breakfast-only joint within earshot
of the waves coming in and the high yawning
of seagulls: two eggs and grits, wheat toast,
strawberry jelly. He should not have so much
salt, but the grits need it. We have lunch
at one of the many seafood restaurants
where he orders lobster, takes a few good bites
before he’s done, and supper we eat at the house
in front of the evening news. Nine o’clock he says,
Ok, and I help him up from his corduroy recliner.
Such ease in his shoulders, such ease
in his back. As he rests on the side of the new
hospital-style bed, his house shoes slide off.
Before we leave in the mornings for breakfast
we drink a cup of coffee and I empty
a handful of peanuts onto the deck table
for a few local jays and cardinals, some pecans
for the squirrels. We watch the cardinal
through the sliding glass door, filling his beak
with as many peanuts as he can carry.
The space for the last nut always too small,
he must discard and discard until he finds one
broken, just the right size. We were up early today,
or the birds late. The beach lay nestled in fog.
Grandfather said something I couldn’t quite hear
(phlegm in his throat, television on),
but it sounded like, The trees are marching
out of the ocean. I asked him, What?,
but either he didn’t hear me or there was no, what.
He took another black sip of coffee.
As I rose to begin moving us to the car, he pointed.
Yes, he said, and when I looked one of the jays,
that dash of color, was there. We watched it
for a moment, then we turned and let it go.