Patrick Donnelly

Dock and Shipyard (from Sketchbook)
Henry Ward Ranger, American


He worked as a diver, pocketing
three hundred dollars an hour for welding
under water, checking intake valves
for barnacles and mussels,
retrieving the occasional corpse
from under the mossy docks.
Once the face of a dead girl
swam into his vision while he was working;
he was full of stories like this.
He was small and fine,
and every evening when he was dry
he waxed his mustaches to a sharp point.
The muscles of his chest were so deeply cleft
that my right hand, if he had let it,
might have disappeared.

Another of his stories was that
in late autumn he began to notice
a grey squirrel staring at him
from outside his third floor window.
One morning he woke
to find an acorn on his pillow.
Later, another nut
in the bowl of a spoon,
in the toe of a Navy dress shoe,
in the pouch of his jock,
somehow at the back of a locked drawer.

We lost touch when he moved
to a houseboat on the river.
My hand thinks of him sometimes.

Patrick Donnelly is the author of four books of poetry, Little-Known Operas (Four Way Books, 2019), Jesus Said (a chapbook from Orison Books, 2017) Nocturnes of the Brothel of Ruin (Four Way Books, 2012, a Lambda Literary Award finalist). and The Charge (Ausable Press, 2003, since 2009 part of Copper Canyon Press). Donnelly is director of the Poetry Seminar at The Frost Place, Robert Frost’s old homestead in Franconia, New Hampshire, now a center for poetry and the arts. With his spouse Stephen D. Miller, Donnelly translates classical Japanese poetry and drama. The translations in The Wind from Vulture Peak: The Buddhification of Japanese Waka in the Heian Period (Cornell East Asia Series, 2013) were awarded the 2015 – 2016 Japan-U.S. Friendship Commitssion Prize for the Translationof Japanese Literature, from the Donald Keene Center of Japanese Culture of Columbia University. Donnelly’s other awards include a U.S./Japan Creative Artists Program Award, and Artist Fellowship from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the Margaret Bridgman Fellowship in Poetry from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, a 2018 Amy Clampitt Residency Award, and a 2019 residency at the Gloucester Writers Center. Donnelly was 2015 – 2017 poet laureate of Northampton, Massachusetts.

Next poem

Previous poem

Winter 2021