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Ron Slate
Ron Slate

Night Crossing

Recorded for Poem-a-Day, August 23, 2016.
About this Poem 

“At the outset, there was a vague thought—we dream of moving forward but actually we just go back and forth. The mystery of time makes me a little seasick. But a half-thought can sometimes displace more water than a dissertation. Bon voyage!”
—Ron Slate

Night Crossing

Back and forth is a way to move
when the visible is spacious.

But what’s the state of the last boat,
lightly loaded and unprofitable?

Tied up at the mainland dock,
the ferry shudders in its berth,

its captain consults a tide chart
and grunts. A new, possessive moon.

Late departure, a rigid beam of light
probes the sea lane for what violates or drifts.

The other shore, not far off, can leap
and hurt the hand pointing at it.

In the dark alongside—wings seen, instantly gone,
a half-thought interrupted by a heave.

Then the ferry turns hard a-port to the channel,
the parting waters make the sound of a god

murmuring for both the first and last time.
At mid-crossing, something is lacking twice over—

in this location, in the mechanism or vision of the crossing?
Two ports, both accommodating, but unmoved

by what goes on between. How many departures
does a person need, how many starts can be tolerated?

A necessary collision at the pilings
tells everyone it’s over.
 

Copyright © 2016 by Ron Slate. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 23, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2016 by Ron Slate. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 23, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

collection

Classic Books of American Poetry

This collection of books showcases the masterpieces of American poetry that have influenced—or promise to influence—generations of poets. Take a look.

American Poets
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poem

Vacation

I love the hour before takeoff,
that stretch of no time, no home
but the gray vinyl seats linked like
unfolding paper dolls. Soon we shall
be summoned to the gate, soon enough
there’ll be the clumsy procedure of row numbers
and perforated stubs—but for now
I can look at these ragtag nuclear families
with their cooing and bickering
or the heeled bachelorette trying
to ignore a baby’s wail and the baby’s
exhausted mother waiting to be called up early
while the athlete, one monstrous hand
asleep on his duffel bag, listens,
perched like a seal trained for the plunge.
Even the lone executive
who has wandered this far into summer
with his lasered itinerary, briefcase
knocking his knees—even he
has worked for the pleasure of bearing
no more than a scrap of himself
into this hall. He’ll dine out, she’ll sleep late,
they’ll let the sun burn them happy all morning
—a little hope, a little whimsy
before the loudspeaker blurts
and we leap up to become
Flight 828, now boarding at Gate 17.
Rita Dove
1994
From the Archive: West Coast Reading
Robin Becker Postcard
poem

Travel

The railroad track is miles away, 
    And the day is loud with voices speaking, 
Yet there isn't a train goes by all day 
    But I hear its whistle shrieking.

All night there isn't a train goes by, 
    Though the night is still for sleep and dreaming, 
But I see its cinders red on the sky, 
    And hear its engine steaming.

My heart is warm with friends I make, 
    And better friends I'll not be knowing; 
Yet there isn't a train I wouldn't take, 
    No matter where it's going.
Edna St. Vincent Millay
1921