Underneath the Pier

by Travis Smith

I was a collector of empty spindles and twisted hooks,
leaning against the pilings while seagulls

pecked at fallen crumbs. Passing by,
the couples and dog-walkers never looked up

or out, where the crossbeams arched
like a cathedral ceiling or a whale’s ribcage,

where its noontime shadow stretched a path
over breaker and spindrift. I sat and thought

about walking on those dark slats,
listened to the fishermen’s boots clomp overhead,

their airdropped bits of conversation,
good catch or no catch, the sizing-up

of bait and haul. I paced all day
by the ocean’s edge which was my edge also,

watched the water go milky with halogen light.
There at the center, neither passing over nor through,

I was helpless as the driftwood
that washed up and bobbed in the tide pools;

I prodded the beached jellyfish
I’d find sometimes, discarded by the sea,

studied their bloated, deadly, brainless calm.
I left only so I could be dragged back.

When the pier closed down and the ghost crabs came out,
I’d follow their scuttle and scrawl, return to the deadweight of home.

Sinkers and bottlecaps clinked in my pockets.
The salt smell clung like barnacles to my clothes.

TRAVIS SMITH will graduate in May from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His poems have appeared in Tar River Poetry and are forthcoming in Wag’s Revue.