Poems by James Toupin

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The Long Piers

by James Toupin

From Canary Summer 2016

James lives near the confluence of the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers, part of the great watershed of the Chesapeake Bay. The lake in the poem is Tahoe, the largest alpine lake in North America.

The long piers of our pleasurable summers,
lie stranded, parched, like a straggle
of whales welled out of the water
by inexplicable instinct
to lie gasping on the sand.
Five years of drought, like age
thinning the surrounding peaks
bald of snowpack,
have pulled the lake back from its banks,
and now the piers, to which
our hopes once were tied,
falter 500 feet from the water.
Children dart around the pilings
quick as glistening fish.
They no longer learn how to bring
the boats in with a minimal thump,
no longer hold their breaths
to make the dive, backflip or swan,
into where they now run.
The long piers no longer
live aligned to the seasons,
to the constriction of autumn
that chased the glad calls away
and the expansion of spring
that brought on repair.
An insistence that nothing has changed
keeps the tall wrought-iron gate
to one of the private piers locked,
the gate’s sides stretching out into air
like the wings of a clipped bird trying to fly.
No one has constructed the new piers yet,
starting from new banks,
to harness the speed boats
that nod lazily from their buoys –
as though action were suspended by ropes
between two cliffs: here the hope
that we, and the piers,
were waiting out a long year
that would bring the water back;
there the image, once conceived
only in eras geological,
of the still-immense lake
parched down to valley.
On the mountain slopes
the spruce and pine
are dry as tinder.
Along the road in, the signs warned
brightly of the danger of fire.

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