Stars That Never Touch the Sea by Paul Nemser

Though I live far away on the shores of Scythia,
with those stars visible that never touch the sea. . . .

Ovid, Tristia

The beaches are hemmed in with sea lavender, and the smell
oh the smell of clams undermines me. Memory, I have
none at all, though the streets were never wetter.

I come up to the seawall, and the living are sad
as a soldier who halts of his own accord, not even turning an ear
for the command, but stopping because there is too much rain

or because a girl will not stop weeping
where she sits on a stone adding consonants to tears
like celery stalks to a stew with no beef

but only the thrice-boiled bones so white
they turn cheeks moon-white in a halo of ice, and the soldier
traces the nerves in her face, as if she were the melting moon.

I’ve fallen out of myself like a gear out of a gear train.
I peel back fir cones, artichoke-style,
stare horrified at beetles. Do legs have to twitch?

Like every straw in a straw pile, I pick teeth for foreign bodies—
amoebas, angels, the sixteenth notes
that shudder a creature’s mandibles.

Everyone mmmm’s through the daily carnage.
The geese are a full battalion in battle dress.
Sand is a yellow shelf of weepers and fleshpickers.

Dancing for all who didn’t slaughter me in effigy,
I stick like gum in the day’s golden hair
while a dog’s eyes are squeezing all the blue from a cloud,

and hours are swooped up by barn swallows.
Hours with the experienced, vacant look
that saddens around the stare of a warhorse.

Are flowers the ditties of the foolish and forsaken?
Dragonfly tongue, lie in wait behind my smile.
Suppositions of bees, rub me in pollen,

I’m a man with a beard. A squint by the seaside
where day dried a mountain of pale pink salt
in the light of this young woman’s moaning song.


Paul Nemser‘s book Taurus, which won the New American Poetry Prize, will be published in November, 2013. His chapbook Tales of the Tetragrammaton will be published in summer 2014. His poems recently appeared or are forthcoming in AGNI, Blackbird, Raritan, and Third Coast. He lives in Cambridge, MA.