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At Pleasure Bay

 In the willows along the river at Pleasure Bay
A catbird singing, never the same phrase twice.
Here under the pines a little off the road In 1927 the Chief of Police And Mrs.
killed themselves together, Sitting in a roadster.
Ancient unshaken pilings And underwater chunks of still-mortared brick In shapes like bits of puzzle strew the bottom Where the landing was for Price's Hotel and Theater.
And here's where boats blew two blasts for the keeper To shunt the iron swing-bridge.
He leaned on the gears Like a skipper in the hut that housed the works And the bridge moaned and turned on its middle pier To let them through.
In the middle of the summer Two or three cars might wait for the iron trusswork Winching aside, with maybe a child to notice A name on the stern in black-and-gold on white, Sandpiper, Patsy Ann, Do Not Disturb, The Idler.
If a boat was running whiskey, The bridge clanged shut behind it as it passed And opened up again for the Coast Guard cutter Slowly as a sundial, and always jammed halfway.
The roadbed whole, but opened like a switch, The river pulling and coursing between the piers.
Never the same phrase twice, the catbird filling The humid August evening near the inlet With borrowed music that he melds and changes.
Dragonflies and sandflies, frogs in the rushes, two bodies Not moving in the open car among the pines, A sliver of story.
The tenor at Price's Hotel, In clown costume, unfurls the sorrow gathered In ruffles at his throat and cuffs, high quavers That hold like splashes of light on the dark water, The aria's closing phrases, changed and fading.
And after a gap of quiet, cheers and applause Audible in the houses across the river, Some in the audience weeping as if they had melted Inside the music.
Never the same.
In Berlin The daughter of an English lord, in love With Adolf Hitler, whom she has met.
She is taking Possession of the apartment of a couple, Elderly well-off Jews.
They survive the war To settle here in the Bay, the old lady Teaches piano, but the whole world swivels And gapes at their feet as the girl and a high-up Nazi Examine the furniture, the glass, the pictures, The elegant story that was theirs and now Is part of hers.
A few months later the English Enter the war and she shoots herself in a park, An addled, upper-class girl, her life that passes Into the lives of others or into a place.
The taking of lives--the Chief and Mrs.
Took theirs to stay together, as local ghosts.
Last flurries of kisses, the revolver's barrel, Shivers of a story that a child might hear And half remember, voices in the rushes, A singing in the willows.
From across the river, Faint quavers of music, the same phrase twice and again, Ranging and building.
Over the high new bridge The flashing of traffic homeward from the racetrack, With one boat chugging under the arches, outward Unnoticed through Pleasure Bay to the open sea.
Here's where the people stood to watch the theater Burn on the water.
All that night the fireboats Kept playing their spouts of water into the blaze.
In the morning, smoking pilasters and beams.
Black smell of char for weeks, the ruin already Soaking back into the river.
After you die You hover near the ceiling above your body And watch the mourners awhile.
A few days more You float above the heads of the ones you knew And watch them through a twilight.
As it grows darker You wander off and find your way to the river And wade across.
On the other side, night air, Willows, the smell of the river, and a mass Of sleeping bodies all along the bank, A kind of singing from among the rushes Calling you further forward in the dark.
You lie down and embrace one body, the limbs Heavy with sleep reach eagerly up around you And you make love until your soul brims up And burns free out of you and shifts and spills Down over into that other body, and you Forget the life you had and begin again On the same crossing--maybe as a child who passes Through the same place.
But never the same way twice.
Here in the daylight, the catbird in the willows, The new café, with a terrace and a landing, Frogs in the cattails where the swing-bridge was-- Here's where you might have slipped across the water When you were only a presence, at Pleasure Bay.

Poem by Robert Pinsky
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