The Suspicion of Statistics in a Seaside Village

The peasant may play cards in the evening while the poet writes verses,
but there is one political principle to which both subscribe, namely, that
among the half-dozen or so things for which a man of honor should be
prepared, if necessary, to die, the right to play, the right to frivolity,
is not the least.

–W.H. Auden

Seen from afar in the play of sea-side things,
The finite land seems to shuffle and jot
Its facts in the creamy crash of surf.
A small wave splashes with faint bursts of laughter
Against tarred and crusted piers — the sea
Has long since received in a solemn feast
Its fiery host, the sun; and like the profile
Of church windows, local structures along
The shoreline blaze violent analogies —
Not in the green gamuts of old copper,
Nor red martyrdom’s glow, but in familiar
Felicity, orange embraced by pure white.
One moment, then, the all-glittering light
Is counted by the sea. But forgetfulness
Then forces waves to drown in their own numbers.

And in the brown light of evening, a peasant
Plays at cards, worrying each card’s corner
Into a frayed blur like the washed-out edges
Of the Old Masters. He makes a faint murmur
About what, in the brown light, he cannot
Abstract. He understands only that
The order of luck makes it black…then red.
He spits at the mutt, in its older sleep
More concrete than the surety of diamonds,
Harder than clubs. It is tobacco and rum cups
And the heavy cargo of memory
Which may wither and stain the cards between
The peon’s fingers, but indeterminate
Sea-lights twinge through his small window, despite
The wick that sizzles in paraffin puddles.

Again, at his table, up to his tired elbows
In sacramental ink, let it be that a failed
And local poet is at work with poor words,
Finding metaphors in dim-lit stanzas,
An attributive madness from the same
Sudden collapse and implosion of time,
Of space and feelings, as he impugns all:
Image, device, convention stormed and rung
With anger, the same the glowering peasant
Emptied on whimpering dusk’s whining shadows.
The poet himself, almost abstraction itself,
Is not quite either, but cards clicking
Between the peasant’s fingers. Midnight’s wick
Dying in colored wax; distant sea lights
Winking countless, indeterminate dawns.


  1. Quin Finnegan says

    This is just excellent. Explain to me again why we aren't reading you in the pages of Poetry, Ploughshares, or whatever? Tell me again that you copied this from the Pee-Chee you carried around in high school, and I will tell you that I don't believe you …

    because the resonance with the Walcott poem and today's political posts make it so much of the here-and-now that the only other explanation is

    that you're prolific enough to have a back catalogue allowing you to pull out semi-topical poems according to the subject of the week, in which case

    I really must demand that you reprint that volume I saw lying on Lickona's kitchen table … I curse myself for not stealing the thing when I had the chance…

    and thanks for bringing in Auden, who(m) I never got around to sounding you out on … but will, some day, I hope.

  2. Jonathan Webb says

    Yeah, and I love the sun as a fiery host. I'm there baby.

  3. Who needs Poetry and Ploughshares when there is Dappled Things? Ha!

    Seriously, though, this is lovely.

  4. Quin,

    1. Pee-Chee: Your answer to Igatius' Red Chief Tablet?

    2. Prolific is really only a state of mind…

    3. "Aegypta" needs to be in every bathroom in the nation!

    4. Auden is the roundhouse for many more poets than care to admit the fact. (I'm currently reading the just published lectures by Randall Jarrell on Auden – a sort of love/hate thing going on – the way Orwell had a love/hate for Waugh…)


    My favorite image in the thing too!


    You see what I mean, then?


    Thank you, as always!


  5. Good poem.

  6. ImeldaJean says

    Dammit. I want to rage at the injustice of it – something about the one with more talents being given more…etc, etc. Instead I am reduced to weeping.

    I guess I must just count myself humbly grateful for the largess of the talented one.

  7. ImeldaJean says

    To amend my last comment: I do not mean to imply that "to the one who has more, more will be given" is in fact an injustice.

    Rather that it is perceived as such by the one who has buried his talents.

  8. Quin Finnegan says

    Yes, yes, yes, and yes.

    Now regarding the to whom much is given … I think most everybody has been on both sides of that, but it's the perceived injustice of it all that rankles, and then it tends to stick. Nothing is more consistent than character, and when A sees the B thoroughly enjoying the gravy and then the gravy coming round to B yet again, it's just human nature for A to envy B and his gravy, while ignoring the heaping pile of brussel sprouts right in front of him.

    Or something like that.

    Imeldajean, have we been introduced? Do you like trains?

  9. ImeldaJean,

    Um. I hope that your sense of injustice is not directed at my poor poem…. It's not all THAT!


  10. Rufus McCain says

    JOB: I've only had a chance to do one quick read of this, but it strikes me as maybe the best poem of yours I've read so far. I definitely want to spend more time with it. Rich stuff. Is it a recent one?

  11. Rufus,

    Thanks, man.

    No, I wrote this back in my Dallas days.

    It was, in part, inspired by "Il Postino" – which I loved despite my dislike of Neruda (at least in the translations I've read).

    So I'm thinking 95 or so…? Maybe a bit later.

    (I'm proving Quin's inititial insightful observation, of course…)


  12. ImeldaJean says

    Joe – I too was in Dallas in '95 (actually, I think we were toiling for the same employer; think community college). I too saw Il Postino. And nothing could've been further from my mind than a poet and a peasant by the seashore. The poem is all THAT. But my day was much better for it. I thank you!

    Quin – Yes and yes, when they're not colliding with solid objects.

  13. ImeldaJean,

    So it is possible that our paths could have crossed?

    I am stumped…

    My apologies for not having a better memory.

    But glad you like the poem!


  14. Quin Finnegan says

    Would never have insighted my way towards schlock-about-Neruda-as-inspiration. No offense man, but that's just weird. Guess I need to watch that movie over again.

    Rather, what I heard (and not just in the title), was "The Idea of Order at Key West," and I recommend that you take that tack in whatever future commentary you add to the poem.

    Yes, I am the biggest s(n)ob I know.

  15. Rufus McCain says


  16. Quin Finnegan says

    McCain: Ouch! "I represent those remarks," as somebody else around here said recently. Seriously though … "slub"? Where the hell do you get off … ?!? …

    Bernardo: I regret the omission … you can soon expect a deluge of submissions shortly. If not from the ubertalented JOB, from such hacks as McCain and myself and maybe this guy.

  17. Quin,

    I admit my cinematic tastes are pretty pedestrian – but I'm a sucker for a movie abouta a guy, his (brunette) girl and poetry.

    That said, I should mention that the poem was only in part inspired by the movie.

    But you have me dead to rights, so I will not try to defend myself.


  18. Rufus McCain says

    Snobe: I liked the s(n)ob formulation. Can relate. Having admitted that, I must also admit that I was a sucker for Il Postino, too. That you weren't might explain your luck w women.

  19. Rufus McCain says

    Sorry, that was a low blow.

  20. Quin Finnegan says

    No, that's okay, I get it. I am the very definition of "pathetic".

    You (Rufus) will be happy to know that when Il Postino came out, there was a huge billboard advertisement (the billboard NB on Roosevelt, near the U district at about 40th) with a giant blurb from none other than John Updike. And I remember thinking, man, stick to books.

    So you're in good company. Meanwhile, my company is with the likes of Fassbinder, so I guess I'm the leper here.

    By the way, I just submitted to Dappled Things as "JOBrian", which I hope will be enough to fool them into publishing. Although I'm giving myself away here, if Bernardo comes back to these comments.

    How's your afternoon?

  21. Quin,

    Well. The assimilation is complete, then.

    I KNEW resistance was futile!



  22. Jonathan Webb says

    Good poem Quin. Did you compose it on the job?

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