The Poetry of
Jack Scott


Nests are not thrown together,
but carefully assembled ,
knit together piece by piece,
knots on a string of choices
a snippet at a time, a straw, a twig,
slips and strips of yarn and threads,
feathers, down and seaweed,
stems of weeds and flower heads-
industry and patience yoked
together toward common end.

No drawing board, no architect or plan,
no preconception evident ;
this hatches from its own intelligence,
its own egg, this idea of nest,
to begin this duet of certainty
to flesh these ideas out.

Predestined partners in this now,
basketweaving Yin and Yang
absolutely bound to coincide.
In their flights of Maypole spiraling
he selects the territory, she the site.
In their magic how do they know
when nest is done?
When the egg is in it.

So it is beyond these fences
within broader boundaries
enclosing more
that can’t be weighed or measured
in tangibility.
Sweat, for instance,
between two bodies slippery in their heat,
careless in the transience of their lust.
She can’t hear the skeins of sound
loosed by their embrace- she’s deaf,
but he is deafer
to things far subtler than sound,
the silent sire who first begot
and then was not.

Vacationing from pain,
as far away as she can get,
self-medicating doctor explores by eye
horizon across the Belfast Bay
from her chair upon the porch,
scans the nearer islands,
enjoys her stereopticon of reverie:
images as brief as blinks
blended with the butterfly effects
of all her history.

Some say god is in the details,
stepping stones to excellence;
others say the devil’s there
to seek or cause the finest flaw
and thwart the scheme of things.
The essence of the universe,
might be the sum of details.
What’s a person or an egg,
but a smaller sum of all of these?

“Tea or coffee, Miss?”
asked deaf Alice with a voice
like cracked parchment or burnt skin,
as if she’d practiced sound
from reading letters only,
or ordered from a catalog
without ever having heard a word.
She hadn’t.
Her attempt at speech
a willful feat;
how stubborn
no one knew but her.

Interpreting, the doctor ordered,
with soundless lips
while pointing at the menu.
Hearing with her eyes
the waitress turned to fetch the tea
with sugar and with lemon
having clearly in her mind
a picture of the three.

As Alice set the service,
the doctor asked with gestures:
how far along was she?
Five fingers, then three
followed by a bent one
made it clear enough.
Two weeks or so to go
and she looked it;
she was very round.

Compelled by curiosity
and an educated guess,
the doctor sought the manager
indulging a suspicion
forming in her mind.

“Unmarried, true, her second such,
destined for adoption, too.
A good employee, honest, cheerful,
hard working, sober when she is,
all of that is why I hired her
and why I’ll keep her on
when this is over.
No, no kin I know of
except her baby soon ,
and she’s not up to that,
not for lack of love, I’m sure,
but hers is such a heavy handicap,
misunderstood and borne alone,
it’s all that she can carry:
her own, of course,
and the burden of the child.”

The doctor listened carefully,
asked more questions,
guessed the size and weight
of her speculation.
Of the mother’s siblings,
she learned,
two of three were deaf at birth as well.
Unanswered and unanswerable:
will the baby hear?

When she’d made her phone call,
once she’d passed the story on
to her childless friends
further down the map
the deal breaker loomed larger
than the hope within the deal .
Time, so eloquent and final,
will tell- about the hearing;
it always does.

The childless couple
in a maze of desperation,
once the news reached them,
entered it in haste,
too keenly feeling incompletion,
already tensely aiming at one target,
another baby
they’ve been negotiating for,
due later by a month or more.
They’d now have a choice of two.
First on the calendar, Maine child
with impetuosity
is now first in line,
but with the cast iron caveat:
it must hear perfectly.

Now, so much to do:
lawyers and impending mother,
clear contract with no maybes,
with provision for return ,
obstetrical arrangements,
weighing the hospital’s pros and cons,
assuring good postnatal care,
arranging payment of each bill as due.
Picking out a wardrobe?
Too early. Patience, patience.
The baby will remain in residence
until its health is verified and stable,
its hearing certified by audiologist,
and unknown things overlooked
unexpected, or forgotten as they come..

Birth can be sad when mother wakes
and baby sleeps right on
in separate beds,
in separate rooms.
A child is born
into this dreamlike day.

The mother wakes -her job is done,
but hasn’t seen her little one,
and won’t,
she has agreed it’s best for all
to form no further bond
that must be further broken.

The baby wakes in thin October light
and cries because it is so bright.
Does she know her mother isn’t there?
Does she feel like something’s missing?
One cord’s been cut, one more remains.
She’ll never be this small again.
This is her time- purely,
before others enter in.

Birth is bookend one,
tombstone date the other;
of a pair, a half.
Her lifestone lies
at the very heart
of time to come .
No message here
in the space that follows,
no borrowed verse expressing pride:
of name, of marriage, parentage,
of property or roots, of profit or its fruit,
of loss of others come and gone before,
or the hope to join them,
only unspoken, unwrit, implied:
hello, to all that is to come.

One more thing upon it.
Dusted on with chalk
by poised hand;
her certificate of birth
pending ink and final naming.
Those who will not sail it
are not to name the boat.
Baby Doe, her maiden name.

She lies within a borrowed wrapping.
How could she own, she has not earned.
Chrysalis statistically: one hand clapping.
She does not even own her name,
it will be taken from her, exchanged
upon her transplantation.

This baby girl born at the stony throat,
of scrawny neck of Belfast Bay,
high upon a hill where summer folk played
while wild fragaria and bleuets
were in season, red and blue,
then departed frost-driven
as southward as their money flowed.
The summer folk were relatively rich and few
and when they blew and went kerchew
they contained themselves with handkerchiefs
the locals washed and ironed,
the mother being one of them:
maid of all work,
a domestic factotum capable as well
of heavier odd jobbing like working
in his boatyard with her pa.
Often nanny, good with children,
loved by them for her good heart
and gentle, caring ways.

The hospital appears to be
at the edge of century;
though it’s had its share of time
it’s sounder than it seems
to eye of first time visitor.
It’s time for it to don
before the coming winter
another coat of “Old Oyster White”
to trigger hunger or desire,
a name the color or enticement?
Looks like oyster, smells like paint
thinned out with turpentine
redolent of wind bent pine
another local flavor.
The trim: “Sea Bottom Black”,
another merchandising whim,
delineates the woodwork trim,
and that’s the black and white of it.
Not too cold to paint outside
if the paint can dry in time.

Seashell walks and lobsterpots,
kelp, some flotsam and some jetsam,
compete with trees and shrubbery
to set the stage for tourists
consistent with the rest of town
presenting what it always was
along with what it is:
props set for the tourists,
to show them what they want to see
and put them in the mood for buying it:
memento, knick knack, souvenir,
to make them want to take it home
as treasure to be hidden in plain sight
upon a dusty shelf
or buried in a treasure chest,
with no hope of future treasure hunt.

Half disrobed for the season
so intimate in detail
across the crystal space
the far shores seem so near today-
magnified, precise, pristine-
that they could rest
in one’s opened hand
compelling one to see
what one had been before
merely looking toward instead of at.
the gently ruffled water lies in rows,
as if blue plowed liquid field,
or ornate ceiling of lobsterland
above a floor, imagined
seabottom black.
On her porch she rose
crossing to its railing
she realized an edge of cliff,
a shock she quickly backed away from
because the vision was too sharp,
the danger more immediate
than her inner pain,
too tempting to be reconciled today.
Procrastination was an easier abstraction,
lying beneath her lowered lids, and inward.
Even so, what she sees
is less than what she feels
yet startlingly more evident
than what lies beneath her lowered lids,
inward and behind them.

No locked cell,
in lemon linen private room
high atop asylum.
She’s sad, not mad.
It’s not that kind of prison,
more a refuge, a retreat,
a safe alternative to street.
What she did was not a crime
although she suffered punishment
in her own mind.
What is the kinder word,
less likely to offend:
impecunious, impoverished
or just plain poor?
Now that’s incarceration . . .

This mother is all that and more.
Bringing that to bear on this:
she has another child
which she didn’t have before.
She had decision, not a choice,
what depth of feeling is involved
only she could say if she would speak.
Born deaf as stone,
her eyes work well
and she’s not dull.
She can read and write,
communicate without handicap
with pen and ink on paper;
how portable is that?
Untrained, she drew the birds
she loved and fed by hand-
on her own time.
Her mind, translated through her hand and eyes,
has discussed, stated, “listened” and responded.
Settled without duress,
This is equation’s only balance.
She’s accepted that,
she knows what is and isn’t,
she comprehends impossible
she knows what penalties
stubbornness would cost her daughter.

Like mothers everywhere who care
(there are some who don’t)
she wants her baby,
to become, to have better,
to find comfort affordably,
to have goals and reach them,
to prosper.
There may be altruistic genes,
more likely enlightened self-interest
cast against the wall of probability
as dice to offer better odds,
at least ones that feel better.

One of those odd buildings
appearing larger inside than out
the hospital has two stories,
three on the right
above the original structure,
taking about a third of its width.
Alice is in one of the higher rooms
facing east toward the Bay and beyond
a vista permanent in her blood
and in immediacy
the reality became a cliff
that once drew her near,
then into retreat
from imagined floor of lobster land-
sea bottom black.

Turning, facing her room:
a door,
a single bed,
a rack to hang a few things on,
a dresser with a looking glass looking out,
its drawers discretely closed,
a tray with wheels, upon it:
jars adorned with fleur de lis,
a pitcher and a stoneware bowl,
mismatched wash cloth and towel,
a plate with egg upon its face,
an empty coffee cup,
a glass with milk upon its lip,
a vase to put some flowers in,
no rug upon the floor, sandpaper clean,
the only window at her back
fortunate to catch the morning sun,
beneath the bed a relic chamber pot,
(her bathroom’s just around the corner.)
alarm clock to awaken her,
but she’s been awake.

She knows she’s had a child
(how could she not?)
and some of why and how;
she’s not a medieval maiden.
She has not seen it.
but knows it’s there
She has of course not heard it.

She packs everything she brought with her,
prematurely, from the dresser and the rack,
then stiffly rests,
not supposed to use her feet just yet,
but restless, rises,
confronts the mirror
explores it:
no flowers in the room,
a card, no, two,
one letter and a telegram,
under the bed the other shoe
beside the antique chamber pot,
redundantly competing with a bed pan
and adjacent bathroom.
All is as it should be
according to the plan.

What’s missing is her baby.
She cries at that from time to time,
it tugs at her.
A fertile woman without strings
and wanting none, we think,
though she tied a knot or two.

Put the first stone in the scale,
You who weigh her here:
round and usually jolly,
short and often puckish
a loose woman so-called back then
with a fun loving reputation,
a free spirit as seen by some,
by others, freer than she should have been,
wanting all that she could get,
not knowing how to pay for it,
she took it as it came.
Smart and impish,
a sometimes silly prankster,
occasionally a vagabond,
sometimes with a man.
In short, a character
in the good sense of the word,
animated, mischievous- and sad
for what she didn’t know
that she was missing.

To whom could she confide,
with whom seek counsel?
You have to know who writes
when you open book to read.
One size does not fit all,
it takes knowledge
to know where to look
and recognize what’s found.
She did well with what she had,
beneath our notice,
all that weight
with so little light
shone on it.

Her daughter drinks a lot
gets high on milk,
coos and gurgles when she’s held,
or passed around from eager hands
to the welcome of the next,
cries when she doesn’t get
what she knows not how to ask for,
is in all ways unhousebroken,
untamed it might also be said,
demands attention,
cannot decide to smile,
but seems working on the knack of it,
has nothing yet to dream
(we think, but do not know.)
She is too tiny to break anything yet
with her temper alone,
has nothing of her own to break.
One road out of here squiggles northward
toward Canada and the Upper Pole,
can been seen from her window
fading into that distance
now that the leaves are down.
Beyond that little-traveled road:
a land increase more than a hill
a modest mound of evergreens
Spruce and Fir and Hemlocks.
This Northern road leads shortly
past a wooden sign:
“You are now exactly halfway
between North Pole and Equator.”
Awesome and deceptive,
leading toward belief
that there are only two ways to go,
and one to stay.
How can that be?
Equator? North Pole.
Too vast for the imagination
or too local
while sitting before a wood stove
or a fireplace, imagining stars and galaxies?

Look down, madam
you can see your toes now
without bending over;
you’ve shed a watermelon.
Relief or an increase in girth:
the dilemma.
You fought against abortion,
or was that battle fought for you?
That was decision number one
which led to number two
giving time for thoughtfulness
and realization of inevitability:
some problems do not go away.

If there were winds upon the hill
to sweep the chill inside
to emphasize this drama
to make this transplant take
grafting living skin on living doubt.
No room for doubt!
Done, done, done and done,
it’s done.
Without the wind
it’s warm enough to take the baby home
with it: cold enough to leave it
But there is no wind today,
only the lingering of faint indecision.

The stork returned a fortnight hence,
with steel wings and occupants,
a barren wife, infertile,
the pilot husband,
and the doctor of it all,
she who could not save herself,
came North approaching Winter
descending from the Southern sky
parting geese to land
and claim the child
at who knows what a pound
to become a passenger,
a family member.
Then the silver plane turned round
and those within left the town.

You gave the least a mother could;
you gave your daughter motherhood
Where is your baby now?
Flying southward toward Equator
as do birds and kings for winter.
You can’t afford a ticket
and won’t buy a stamp.
You’ve closed that door,
now to nail it shut.

L17 ®Copyright 1973 Jack Scott. All rights reserved.