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Mark Leigh Gibbons


Neddie Bradshaw

Outward Bound

Stephen Everett, 1945-1963

Pumping Up

Playing Possum

Today

Tonight

Spring Fever


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Neddie Bradshaw

Neddie Bradshaw, family problem
wears his T-shirts inside-out;
guards the dock, patrols the harbor
even when it's frozen over.
Cavorts with children in the water,
lets them stand on his shoulders.
Neddie never misses sunset,
stares at stars. Big kids shun him,
and they wonder how it happened.
Neddie accidentally jibed while racing . . .
boom smashed his head in.
Only twelve, very handsome,
tawny tan, blonde crew cut
he returned from treatment
with a dented forehead.
Brothers helped him, Neddie bit them.
For years he sat watching the tide come
in and out never speaking.
Then he started raking all summer,
beaches, lawns, even the dock float.
Now Neddie rows around the harbor
reporting speed offenders;
he talks he laughs scaring newcomers
into "speaking to someone" about him.
But Neddie's known to be quite harmless.
Sometimes Neddie appears at parties.
Standing alone, out of the light.
Never drinking always staring,
still good-looking but sloppy
in a frightening manner,
he speaks about tide charts
or phases of the moon.
His brothers introduce him
to tipsy girl outsiders.
Neddie leads them to the stables;
they return alone, hay in their hair.
Neddie goes to sleep quite early.


Outward Bound

Daddy told him he didn't measure up
when he was almost fourteen.
Reading books when he should have
been trying out for little league
or jogging and acting less like
a sissy. He hadn't even started
dating girls, and his father had
screwed the maid three times
by the time he was twelve.
Bradly, in his father's eyes,
just didn't measure up,
what with his pants belted too high
and his horn-rimmed glasses
and his vinyl breast pocket liner
to keep his collection of ballpoint pens
from staining his shirts.

So the summer after his freshman year
at Milton, Dad sent Bradly to
Outward Bound in Maine.
It cost four thousand bucks
to have Bradly sleep on a canvas tarp
and eat milk weed buds, poke weed,
fiddleheads and sea urchin roe.

Dad heard from the program director
that Bradly had been
caught jerking off with a black kid
on a scholarship from the South Bronx.
He thought it a good sign.
"At least the kid has discovered his prick,"
Dad wrote back. Bradly had to stay in the woods
for three whole days
with nothing but a canvas tarp,
Swiss army knife, and a bottle
of Cutter insect repellent.
But he snuck out three packets
of Pop Rocks which he mixed with
spring water to give him a little buzz.
He made a fishing hook out of the
tab of his fly and for this act
of outdoorsy imagination
won the Outward Bound Survival
Bronze Medal for the summer.
He told the prize committee he cooked
the sunfish he caught with a fire
he set by rubbing the obligatory sticks
together, wrapping the
fish in sassafras leaves
and laying them on a flat stone.
But actually he ate the fish raw . . .
a taste he acquired from his
parents' Japanese cook the year
his father was selling software for IBM
in Kobe. The fly tab fish hook
was his hard evidence. They swallowed that.

(In case you're wondering,
the First Survival Prize went
to a Mexican Kid who lit
his fire by focusing the sun's rays
through a contact lens.)

During the seamanship part
of the program a kid drowned
after the lifeboat they'd launched
in the surf capsized.
Outward Bound refunded
the full four thousand dollars
to his grateful parents
even though there were only three
days left in the program
when the kid was swept away.

Bradly survived it all,
and his dad thinks the world of him
now. His mother cries occasionally
when she drinks her martinis
and starts to think of the danger
they'd put Bradly in.
Stewart, his younger brother,
idolizes Bradly, who now wears
aviator glasses. He wants to
go Outward Bound as soon as he old enough.
Everybody's vaguely happy,
especially Bradly when he gets
his little package from his
pal in the South Bronx.


Stephen Everett
1945-1963

You taught us all to sail
in the squat ketch your father bought
off the bottom of the Charles.
In the bay breeze your tow hair caught
the sun each time you'd toss the bailing pail;
We'd tack from point to buoy across the harbor
where we all grew up tugging at boat lines.
We are sensitive about sailing there now:
the water is alive with the roar
of cresting waves and your death
sinking the sunset, screaming in oar-
locks or hissing in the seagull's breath.
I think that you would not like
us feeling sensitive about your bay
for the sake of your memory and the way
you possessed the summer then and hiked
out on the heeling edge of life.

In the no-season of November
they put you in an iron lung.
A cold eclipsed your life.
Every detail I remember:
the phone call, the Navy hymn the choir sang
on a scratchy record in the church loft --
Navy sentiment is soft,
and now I think the howls
we all hurled at the mind and waves
of Buzzards Bay in the howling life of August
are more like the energy your life craves.

Pumping Up

(warm-up exercises for the poet)

The sunset chapter from Tristes Tropiques
A paragraph of Proust --
Three short ones of Stevens.
The index of first lines in Robert Frost Complete Poems.
A conversation in an early Waugh.
Last paragraph: Urn Burial.
A short stretch of Beckett.
A rapid romp through three cummings.
About fifty lines of "The Vanity of Human Wishes."
The final frenzy of "Epipsychideon."
A letter of Swift to Pope or Pope to Swift.
A Whitman list.
Three consecutive days in Boswell's Journal.
Some mid-chapter paragraphs in The Structure of Complex Words
"The Garden."
"The Fall of Rome."
Your latest poem.

Ready....begin.

jan.5,'78

Playing Possum

A dust of dusk had brushed across the sky
When coming home from work I saw them fly;
The bats I mean - they like the dusk. But I
Not out because of sunset spend no sigh
For things I could not wholly see. I thought
The evening's well as spent as bought,
and as for bats, I thought my working lot
No compromise with sunlight or their dark,
although their whipping by on leather wings
Suggests antagonistic things.
I had no fear of being taught
By weak-eyed bats on a twilight's lark.

Perhaps the sight of what I see
is not the same for bats as is for me;
And wanting something that they could not see
For what it is and might mistake for kind,
I thought a rock could do some honest work
And test bats' eyes as well as mine.
I proved the better aim. Before night fell
I had hit enough bats to tell
That radar
Could not take me far
Or get me home. After a day's work that's
All right to play possum with the bats.

Today

I thought today would be
a perfect day for a poem.
But then I had to wash
my clothes, buy some food,
return overdue books,
call my mother, have the
oil changed and straighten
out the mess things have
gotten into lately...
In the laundry I had to
chase a junkie who was
prying open the change box,
at the Star Market I ran into
an old fraternity brother
who invited me to a party,
I couldn't stay away from
the new magazines at the
library, my mother says she's sick
again and somehow it's my fault;
I never got to the service station;
under the pile of old books and
newspapers I found ten student
papers I haven't graded.
And now I just looked outside
at the sun setting behind
William James Hall.
What do you make of that?

Tonight

an imitation of Ce Soir by Charles Baudelaire

Drugs, drink, sex, poetry, power and blood:
these are the six possible sides of the dice
I rattle toss and read from sunset until sleep
when something else begins to live me in the dark.

Only in chance and gambling can I be
alone enough to feet anonymous;
when will and reason retreat like twin toads
into the damp, velvet foliage of desire --

giggling like chaste schoolgirls in the attic
fondling each other among bundled yellow love letters.
When twilight breathes across the tired sky,
I let it ruffle off my wrinkled clothes

and fumble through my naked, fleshy crevices
for the hoarded sensations of my future.
The unknown combinations of my lust
strike beckoning poses in the vestibule.

What masque will wear me out tonight?
What replication of myself will lie
resting in my arms drained of variety?
This evening's questions whet my pulse which knows,
thank God, there are no answers.

Spring Fever

Boston finally accepts spring's call;
the connection is fuzzy though
in spite of all the bickering about reversed charges
the way spring usually manages it...
even so, there are misunderstandings --
a dip below freezing in late April --
some snowflakes on May Day.

The yellow blossoms nipped brown with frost
see as daunted as the students
hitch-hiking between hot houses.
Like the daffodils and forsythia,
they aren't New England natives
and expose their bare blossoms too early
in tie-dyed cotton tees and faded shorts.

In the academic litany of suburbs
(Praise for the cradle of liberty)
college kids get little rest:
the city is hung up on history;
it spends its juices on restoration.
Most places are reminders --
the Charles meanders like a doomed and sullen king.

Not even the weather is a native --
it only passes through. The virgin forest
has long since been deflowered.
The Indians have all gone west
to New York, to Politics, to Hollywood.
What can flourish here? Only ideas.

City of students and chronic illnesses!
Boston now allows spring to matriculate
in the alleys between hospitals and colleges.
Yellow blossoms stain renewed plots
like hearts and kidneys transplanted
to a public-spirited dowager down in the dumps.
By tradition, nothing completely dies in Boston.

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