Susanna J. Sturgis    

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Winter Rental

Island of Martha's Vineyard, seven miles off
southeast coast of Massachusetts.
Winter population, 12,000; in summer 62,000.

masthead, Vineyard Gazette

I. Picture Postcards

At Alley's, picking postcards from the rack
beside her friend, the stylish lady says,
"The year-round folk are taciturn and mad.
There's no one here in winter." So she says.
"The isolation does it. Makes them mad
as hatters." Squatting down to get my mail,
I mutter to the wall, "How madly glad
I'll be when all you summer folk have sailed
away to entertainments, mainland style.
Next summer I'll be local color, wild
and surly, stinking like a lobster boat,
and making snide remarks to tourists. No,
I won't appear in any postcard scene,
where waves stand still, and every beach is clean."


II. A Window on the Harbor

I came prepared to be suspicious, cool,
the tough prospective tenant. Was seduced
by one glance out the window, giddy fool
in love with dancing water, set to roost
in this apartment whether toilets flushed
or not. I move in, vowing to enjoy
the view but never to forget I must
be gone by June. A wise if cautious ploy
that doesn't work. The very walls inspire
a lethargy of will, and every poem
completed here's a tendril tough as wire
demanding ground to root in. "This is home,"
I say, where people-laden ferries pass
in scheduled cycles, through the salt-sprayed glass.


III. Ancient Ways (for Mary)

Invoking ancient ways, you make me think
of England, where the paths I walked were traced
by long-dead serving maids and shepherds, link-
ing dale to dale. Though others own this place,
the trails are claimed by all. I feel so young
in your house; decades passing through have left
that picture placed just so, and round days strung
in patterns intricate and full, bereft
of nothing. I move often, leave my tracks
to vanish under brush and fade away,
while your house like the whole damn island lacks
for no one. Still I trace these paths each day,
sometimes with you, more likely when alone,
and hope like rain to wear away at stone.


IV. A Kitchen of My Own

If Sisyphus were female, hell might be
a kitchen, and her sentence to prepare
an endless chain of balanced meals. Then she,
too tired to eat, must coax this gourmet fare
down gullets primed for sloppy joes. Not me --
for years I ate what others cooked, and stayed
away from kitchens, English Breakfast tea
the most elaborate dish I ever made.
What happened here? Was it the eight-month lease,
the open doors, the absent warning signs
of permanent entrapment? I bake bread
and stock my shelves, create each meal complete,
as I shape wayward phrases into rhymes.
No chain or dead end, this, but home instead.


V. Clearing Out

There's no housecleaning thorough as the one
I give a place I'm leaving. Every act
is charged as sacred dance and must be done
with care. My desk dismantled, memories packed
in cartons, is a disconnected brain;
it's tough to write without it. Sorting clothes
by season isn't hard, or flushing drains,
but mere intent to start the kitchen slows
my steps to creeping sludge. A heart beats here:
I know it, know it lives and has no faith
in transport or revival somewhere clear
across the island. Change is never safe.
I'm bleeding too; the sloughing off makes clear
it's spring, there are no nesting places here.


VI. On Being a Year-round Tenant in a Summer Resort

The planet's very axis must be skewed
to make these lopside seasons. Here it's spring
yet we prepare to pull our winter roots
and move again. Relentless summer flings
the unattached before it, so we cling
like barnacles to shells, or learn to ride
the tidal wave like surfers. Skirts aswing,
the wily serving maid will be my guide.
She runs another's errands, filches time
to walk the ancient ways, but always turns
chameleon when the master comes. So I
conduct myself, for something in me yearns
to root in sand, no longer wondering that
the year-round folk are taciturn and mad.

 

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