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Two poems by San Diego Reader’s poetry editor Joseph O’Brien

To Arena and Sea Break

  • To Arena
  • That day the beach crept up on us,
  • Its shallow sideshow of seashells,
  • We began our sunburn early,
  • Soaked in cold beer against curly-
  • Cues of canvas, regatta sails
  • Drowned in the chalky blue chalice
  • Of sky. We drank and drank it in,
  • Your eyes going crazy with thirst ?
  • A sad maroon from Neptune's court,
  • You said, "Mortality's a sort
  • Of mermaid, at once blessed and cursed..."
  • —Then dozed off in mid-sentence, slain
  • By cervezas, college finals
  • And a cunt-spliced eternity:
  • So California left its mark ?
  • White underbelly of a shark.
  • I let you sleep and met the sea
  • Swirling my ankles in runnels
  • And heralding a tidal wave
  • That never came. I thought instead
  • Of your white-cotton one-piece. Flush
  • With want, I weighed your words like flesh
  • In scales: your tapered thighs that fed
  • My blood now drove me out to dive
  • A grinning surf. Ocean's concave
  • Swallowed the yachts, each to its mast,
  • But only rolled my body ashore.
  • A Crusoe pounding sand for more
  • Than Friday's footprints, I lost
  • You to the sea?and nothing save
  • A bare blanket this golden hour ?
  • As if you'd been absorbed and left
  • No farewell but the swimming shade
  • That marked your place. With sunset tide
  • Retreating now, the shifting sift
  • Of sand had scattered you anywhere.
  • Sea Break
  • I
  • A wave. ?A wave. ?Another wave retells
  • The gain and loss, the wealth without a cost?
  • Recalling how each wave crashes memory,
  • So far from home and counting what to see.
  • I stand upon the shore, where wind is tossed
  • As infinitely as clattering shells
  • Upon the shore. She greets my eyes with bold
  • Surrender, nothing returning but wave
  • And tide. As sun and cloud beseech their home,
  • So I had begged for shelter. Now sands comb
  • Debris, the shipping bits that time will save
  • As cold comfort. All shadows grow old
  • And light that windows offer to my room
  • Has nowhere to go, now shunted and lamed
  • By dying shades. She comes to bring me back
  • With meats and wine, with spells that crack
  • An ancient code: your deeds are lost, unnamed
  • By fame, undone by beauty's beckoning doom.
  • II
  • We watch cloudy shadows with sunlight cast
  • Across the waves, like dark monsters beneath
  • Our vision. Hand across your brow, you peer
  • Where sea and sky are married, lost in vast
  • Declensions: wind and water?spangled breath
  • Of glittering gems that glow and disappear
  • Between our separate islands. Though we share
  • A single epic, lyric solitude
  • Maroons these comic palms, their offered green
  • Is lost in ocean's grey. For ghosts that bear
  • The tragic memories of war intrude,
  • Insisting a claim on blood, true and clean
  • As bodies washed ashore. Such is the loom
  • In Ithaca that plucks Ogygia
  • From its tight-threaded weave of cramped regret.
  • Tonight the stars dine alone and assume
  • A feast of meats we might call nostalgia?
  • And waves. ?And waves. ?And other waves forget.
Joseph O'Brien

Joseph O'Brien is poetry editor and staff writer (Set 'Em Up Joe and Sheep and Goats) for the San Diego Reader, where his poetry has been published in the past. His poems also have appeared in the Kickapoo Free Press, Dappled Things, America, and Chronicles.

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“Let’s get cracking. It’s time for racking!”
  • To Arena
  • That day the beach crept up on us,
  • Its shallow sideshow of seashells,
  • We began our sunburn early,
  • Soaked in cold beer against curly-
  • Cues of canvas, regatta sails
  • Drowned in the chalky blue chalice
  • Of sky. We drank and drank it in,
  • Your eyes going crazy with thirst ?
  • A sad maroon from Neptune's court,
  • You said, "Mortality's a sort
  • Of mermaid, at once blessed and cursed..."
  • —Then dozed off in mid-sentence, slain
  • By cervezas, college finals
  • And a cunt-spliced eternity:
  • So California left its mark ?
  • White underbelly of a shark.
  • I let you sleep and met the sea
  • Swirling my ankles in runnels
  • And heralding a tidal wave
  • That never came. I thought instead
  • Of your white-cotton one-piece. Flush
  • With want, I weighed your words like flesh
  • In scales: your tapered thighs that fed
  • My blood now drove me out to dive
  • A grinning surf. Ocean's concave
  • Swallowed the yachts, each to its mast,
  • But only rolled my body ashore.
  • A Crusoe pounding sand for more
  • Than Friday's footprints, I lost
  • You to the sea?and nothing save
  • A bare blanket this golden hour ?
  • As if you'd been absorbed and left
  • No farewell but the swimming shade
  • That marked your place. With sunset tide
  • Retreating now, the shifting sift
  • Of sand had scattered you anywhere.
  • Sea Break
  • I
  • A wave. ?A wave. ?Another wave retells
  • The gain and loss, the wealth without a cost?
  • Recalling how each wave crashes memory,
  • So far from home and counting what to see.
  • I stand upon the shore, where wind is tossed
  • As infinitely as clattering shells
  • Upon the shore. She greets my eyes with bold
  • Surrender, nothing returning but wave
  • And tide. As sun and cloud beseech their home,
  • So I had begged for shelter. Now sands comb
  • Debris, the shipping bits that time will save
  • As cold comfort. All shadows grow old
  • And light that windows offer to my room
  • Has nowhere to go, now shunted and lamed
  • By dying shades. She comes to bring me back
  • With meats and wine, with spells that crack
  • An ancient code: your deeds are lost, unnamed
  • By fame, undone by beauty's beckoning doom.
  • II
  • We watch cloudy shadows with sunlight cast
  • Across the waves, like dark monsters beneath
  • Our vision. Hand across your brow, you peer
  • Where sea and sky are married, lost in vast
  • Declensions: wind and water?spangled breath
  • Of glittering gems that glow and disappear
  • Between our separate islands. Though we share
  • A single epic, lyric solitude
  • Maroons these comic palms, their offered green
  • Is lost in ocean's grey. For ghosts that bear
  • The tragic memories of war intrude,
  • Insisting a claim on blood, true and clean
  • As bodies washed ashore. Such is the loom
  • In Ithaca that plucks Ogygia
  • From its tight-threaded weave of cramped regret.
  • Tonight the stars dine alone and assume
  • A feast of meats we might call nostalgia?
  • And waves. ?And waves. ?And other waves forget.
Joseph O'Brien

Joseph O'Brien is poetry editor and staff writer (Set 'Em Up Joe and Sheep and Goats) for the San Diego Reader, where his poetry has been published in the past. His poems also have appeared in the Kickapoo Free Press, Dappled Things, America, and Chronicles.

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