Thomas Graves was born in Hawaii and grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, attending the Dalton School. He has a Masters in English from Iowa. He adapted and wrote music for Poe's "Masque of the Red Death" for The Childrens Theater at Tufts University. He read his poems at a poetry festival in Romania in 2016. His book Ben Mazer and the New Romanticism was published in 2021. He is the editor of Blog Scarriet.
As a boy I learned to accept the fishes’ death.
On fishing trips with my grandfather I silently hoped the fish
Would live. After a long drive from the lake,
When the trunk was opened,
The pickerels would still be breathing,
Their gills quivering in the murderous air.
I sensed my grandfather’s indifference;
My sorrow brooded without sound on my lips.
The pity I felt
for the fish who solemnly lazed in streams,
Inscrutable monsters who lived in the flood!
My pity moved against me like a flood,
Weakening everything but memory,
Death disguised in dreams,
Dreams of dream lakes, peering within.
Fishing in dreams, fish
Of strange dimensions, the writhing
Of colors hidden partially by the dark.
Before I learned to fish, when sex
Was only something disguised in dreams,
I dreamed of two creatures,
One fat, one long, fighting to the death
In a wooden container of water, barely large enough to hold them.
I founded my religion in a pond.
You could see a boy hunched over on summer days
Salamanders hiding in the slime.
I feared for the safety of worms
We used for bait. Fish devoured worms, and so I felt
Less pity for fish, and then less pity for all.
I stood frozen once, when I saw a minnow
In the mouth of a snake.
Does anyone know what anything is just before it happens?
I remember feeling sex for the first time.
Poetry hinted at sex; sounds of words
Saying what was underlying,
Here’s the brook, the forest, the hungry trout,
The dream of sex which is not sex,
The hungry sweetness of desire,
The sunlight, the mist, the mad-life child.
You returned from the woods with your books,
You brought your books back; poetry failed you;
Poetry in books was too full of silences.
Sex, the adolescent feeling sex,
Suddenly coming for the first time
While just lying on the bedroom floor, alone;
You live with it, marry it,
It keeps you company,
And poetry, lying before you in piled books,
Becomes your companion too.
If we could get back
To the dream of sex which is not sex,
The meadow, the arms, the face,
The whispers, the explanations, mother, father,
Brother, sister, the conquering, the sand,
The water, the coughing, the poetry;
The light just above you as you look up;
You’re a fish, swimming towards him,
The boy in the boat with his grandfather;
He is listening to his grandfather tell a joke;
You will interrupt, you will startle the line;
You will be pulled up on the boat;
You will die; you will die, slowly,
And the boy will no longer know what to think.
But the idea was to die for him.
The idea was to save his life.
That summer we were devoted to baseball
And counted dexterity highest of all things.
Under high trees we learned what we could do on our feet
With the wiffle ball---make it soar or run and with its curve
Baffle both the left handed and the right handed batter.
Our umpire was the venerable Henry Wadsworth Longfellow;
On Brattle Street in Cambridge, Longfellow's house stands,
Between it and the Charles River, Longfellow Park;
A dozen stone steps on either side descending to the river
Frame a monument fifteen feet high, featuring the bust
Of Longfellow, with his fictions carved in low-relief
On the wall behind him; the base on which his bust sits
Is a pedestal forming a strike zone perfect in width,
The wall a fine back-stop to the field of play, formed by
A three foot stone wall enclosing the infield, lamposts
Perfect foul poles just beyond the short wall's two corners;
Three stone steps opposite the statue twenty feet away
Lead to the grass outfield and a curved path: homerun.
Two is all that's needed; one bats, one pitches.
Singles need to clear the three foot stone wall,
Doubles are any hit which hits an outfield tree on the fly,
Triples those hits which on a fly strike the distant path,
Homeruns those which clear the path, sixty feet away.
Home is the vertical area behind the batter,
Under Henry's beard. He watched the called balls and strikes
We threw against his pedestal all summer. My fastball
Was okay, but then I changed speeds---she'd lunge at the ball
Before its anticipated arrival; that was the change-up,
My best pitch. She threw hard and learned a spot
Where I just couldn't hit it and threw it there all day;
She shut me out once; we'd play nine innings
And we took it seriously. We fell in love with the game;
We hated to stop when tourists came by to peek at Henry,
Or when it rained, or grew dark, or when lovers
Were there ahead of us, sighing in our perfect field.