—for Robert Hass
I realized as he walked away I had
misspelled the name of the poet
as he did mine.
He had undertaken the job as caretaker
of his country's eloquence, in charge
of its rhythms, its superstitions
in the year of the most stars pitched,
most children abused, the highest
incidence of hurricanes, till the alphabet
spun like a wheel, the hardest hit
being the Caribbean where he went
measuring the leap of flying fish
as they lodged like straws in tree trunks.
It was the year when Haiti's fire
went out and the ash of the cane smudged
the face of an island as far away as
Trinidad, the pitch hardening on nights
never so cold before. I dreamt I was
floating in the Gowanus where Brooklyn
runs out to sea.
This northern California sea-writer
cursing the sadness of the anemone
saw the mistaken 'a' in his name
as I spotted the 'i' in mine.
We had played a kind of hangman
they still play in the Americas,
early in the morning, as soon as
the sun comes up over the wreckage.