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In Ruin 

February 2000

In seaweed and ruin, Mark Doty finds A Green Crab's Shell and also finds beauty. A painterly beauty of color revealed. A green crab, no longer green - now bronze and "shocking Giotto blue" - not shocking for its brightness (a modern painter would use dark cobalt blue to imitate it), but for its hidden beauty surrounded by ruin.

Select an object now in ruin. Imagine it in its earlier incarnation. What might shock us about its appearance? How does it help identify our own place in that process? Like Doty, pay particular attention to color and detail.

"A Green Crab's Shell" is available in his collection Atlantis

For more on all our prompts and other things poetic, check out the Poets Online blog.


Dark brown eyes, dulled with age
the faint fog, clouding lenses
recognizing only misty familiarities.
Sound above the ambient fluorescent din
and persistent beep and whir
of the machinery of life, hope:
a click, a beep -- repeated again,
but again, familiar here and there,
voices, background whispers
and echoed words: "Mother, it's me."
Joan or Bill, the name's bright,
a luminous gleam in memory,
as children, her hair curly, his straight,
the dreams of sea green lawns
surrounding the tall white pillars
and deep gray flagstone porches.
In the years, white paint chalked
and flagstone cracked, weathered,
children became grandchildren
and black hair, ever so slowly grayed.
Gray now strangely green
in the haunting electrocardial glow,
liquid digital reminders of the fade
of life, of hope, of a candle light
as the flame crumbles to ash.

James M. Thompson

What's Underneath

John's damaged
and scarred muscles
have wound
around his veins and arteries
nestling in tandem to work,
determined in the snarl to function.
So now, in order to correct the damage,
to straighten it all out
requires severing and removal
and quite possibly bleeding to death.
But it has to be done;

things have rotted underneath.

I've curled around my pain
contorted to its shifts and growths
until we've settled into a sort
of working comfort.
To straighten it all out
is going to require sharp edges
and careful cuts,
scraping away of fetid parts.
In order to start fresh,
I know I've got to get to something
smooth, pink and tender.  

Cheryl Soback 

The Present
"What is a ruin but time easing itself of endurance?"     Djuna Barnes

The eye sweeps gray to gray
and then cannot sweep it away.
The waves are small and break
far off shore, leaving a beach
longer and emptier than before.

Shells crushed by tides, trapped
behind driftwood, the water
glides around and through,
seaweed wrapped, it could be
a fragile gift from the angry sea.

Here. The pieces already ruined
when you saw the present.
This is what I had for you.
And you know that two shells
once were held together by

something living, now dissolved.
The beauty of these pieces broken,
fashioned new, by the ocean
absolved, even they
cannot keep away the gray.

Pamela Milne

Rekindled Timbre

Two civilize a room;
hasten shadows short.
With cup of tea
in ivory, porcelain cup;
ivory stained flaxen
by leaves steeping swirl
or strong brewed beans
in cobalt blue, tin cup;
black made blacker by
obscurity of tones.
His journal notes,
blotted ballpoint ink or
pencil charcoal etched by palm
and my letters crossed so neat,
upon rice paper sheets;
most lyrical and rhyming songs.
Chasm of distinctive charm;
self-interests, integrity differing.
and I say Yes,
bedamn one!
Light the lamps;
even with candlelight favored
and its aroma piously strong.
Send in the crowd!
It's been too long.

Connie E. Goulden

Scent of jasmine on her kimono
Fine lines on her upper lip
Far too much makeup, now

Paul Milne

What Has Been Ruined

The hide of the deer,
the corn-chapped field,
the dog in the well,

(I remember
the map of his bones), but not
the river, no, which is still

there by the bridges now,
a thrown skein of moiré,
the selvaged

bank, the tight weave
of reeds, but
yes, the acorn cup,

the grave’s dark
brown grace, the skirt
to the gray suit,

the child’s table with
its long blue bench, the
cracked hose on the nail,

people’s lives in bins
at the curb, the ruin
of their week, their brief

Sunday solemn purpose,
their prayers
for the fallen cities,

their torn sides, the evolve
of love, briefly noted, and
the clay cup I made

with the braided
rim, the gold-flecked
glaze, and the shard I saved

in the shape of
a heart, the red-fired heart
with its savaged lip,

(what was left to save), but
no, not the
day, the wheel’s hard gyre, and

no, not the
fire, nor the way
it took the flame.

Mary DeBow

After The Flood

I pulled the journal from the crumbling box.
The pages bloated, the binding glue dissolved,
the words running blue and black,
the smell of mildew and decay
already strong within it.

I set it on a window ledge in sunlight to dry
and in a few days some fungus bloomed
upon it, feeding microscopically, I suppose,
on the paper, glue and words.

I wondered if that time in my life had been
reclaimed somehow. Taken back from me
to those who lived within it. If perhaps what
now grew upon those words was not ruin
but some redemption.  And, so unlike me,

I buried it in the ground.  The dirt was black
and rich. The sky was deepest blue. The sun
was strong.  The words would not grow;
this was no poem.  It was a man burying
a book in the earth.  In terra.
The remains of something destroyed.

Ken Ronkowitz

the bicycle

a child's toy nothing more
discarded years ago
to this final resting place
a landfill of worthless objects
plowed asunder
a bent wheel with broken spokes
pointing at awkward angles
clinging perilously to a rusted frame
hardly recognizably
save for the small seat  that once carried
the laughter of a small child
a little girl perhaps on christmas day
being helped along with a loving hand
or a little boy who wanted to "do it himself"
the roar of the land fill grader coming closer
to bury once and forever the memories
the squeaking of the metal as it is pushed against the blade;
a sound not unlike a child that is grieving
for that which is forever lost

ray cutshaw

No Ruin This
(Aging Love's sestina)

Holding hands and watching TV shows,
we'd fondle softness we could not see;
but we felt it there.  But that was then.
Now there's roughness, joints are apt to break
at the least impact; though, in the dark
our touch is still in season.  But look!

The three-layered derma, pinkly soft then,
matched the flush your cheek so often shows
even now.  Except today, we see
the three have a  single see-through look;
and beneath - where used to lie the dark -
we watch tendons and gushing veins break

almost to the surface from the dark
of INSIDE.  Life's silent Show of Shows,
under the gauze of skin, makes its break
upon a stage where everyone can see
the purple trees of blood branching then
under the curtained skin.  Such a look

of transparency already shows
more than we at our age want to see!
Sagging, crepe-like skin is bad; but then,
getting used to it - or we won't look -
denies its presence, taking a break
from reality of death and dark.

Elasticity was present then;
pigmentation not a blotchy dark
of fungal atrophy.  We now see -
if an aging courage lets us look -
each swollen arthritic joint that shows
the pulsating capillaries break

and swell in twisted effort.  Age shows
the body as finite and can break.
Perhaps that's why thick skin keeps it dark
in our early years; so we won't see
the gradual wear and tear - the look
of aging - the facts of now and then !

The break of supple youth from age shows
the dark miracle - in time to see
then as prelude to The Lasting Look.

Catherine M. LeGault

The Bridge

For many years it stood so proud
Up in the northland above the crowd
Its tentacles spread from shore too shore
And it carried the weight of more and more.

It was painted steel gray, kind of pretty in a way
As it gave entrance too the vast New York City bay
Bright, strong and new
From land a wonderful view.

It's lights twinkled bright far into the night
To become a landmark too the great and the slight.
What would they have thought, I doubt with delight
This complex device could bring nothing but fright.

So back and forth we did travel
Never expecting it to unravel
It stood fast in the wind, bombarded by rain
The ice that it formed if struck we'd be slain.

Deep down its fibrous roots clung to the clay
Hoping to keep it sound for many a day.
But who could foresee the future events
That began with a chip, a bump and a dent.

The color did change as the weather and sun
Beat down upon it right as it hung.
The brown water beneath invaded its ground
And did splash, dash and sweep its foundation around

The salt from the sea attacked it by air
And fastened itself to the great shrouds Oh so bare
Corrosion, explosion, its joints suffered daily
Eventual decay from this disastrous melee.

Now dingy and stained, marked by time and neglect
This proud span one-day soon would be the elect
For the furnaces of Japan or some other place
This scrap would be bought and would lay in disgrace

Ironic as it is a new bridge is proposed
To replace this one, its life at it's close.
The cars of Japan will roll over its breast
Never knowing they’re made of the old structures crust.

As I see it from here on the far distant shore
I imagine the new bridge and the years by the score
They will fly by with abandon, with sun, wind and rain,
The salt and the sand, an untimely refrain.

The Tappan-Zee bridge as we've know her so well
Has many a story she wishes to tell.
But perhaps we can view her very much the same
As the Native Americans, whose land we claimed.

We  brought what was new, "We'll give them much more"
But as we build and renew their "spirits" grow sore
The once pristine view they gazed hour by hour
Today is impeded by construction gone sour!

Michael R. McCarthy