Today's poem is by Jake Adam York

Self-Portrait in the Town Where I Was Born
        West Palm Beach, Florida

The smell of the ocean,
the brine, must be

the first smell,
the smell of beginning.

Age is everything else.
Fish and skin,

asphalt and gasoline
volatile as moonshine in the heat,

a shower's galvanized water
peppering the air

and the ash of a campfire
the tide's raked out,

thin sugar of beer
and a tea of flotsam and bait

a wave could strew on the sand
and return to claim again.

A child climbs from the surf,
and we walk away.

We drive with the windows down,
beach and its high-rise barrier behind,

Belle Glade and Okeechobee
beyond the low storm of pines,

when the tang of hickory snares us,
pulls us over the tracks

and past the liquor store
to a squat block front,

its yard a wreck
of stumps and logs.

Inside, the menu's compendious—
conch, shrimp, crab—

and vinegar sharpens the air,
so strong for once

we forget the ocean.
We wait, almost alone.

A girl sits, opposite us,
baby on her shoulder.

As pitmen shout behind the counter,
as cleavers fall,

she watches us.
And then she asks

What y'all doing here?

The knives are moving,
but it seems quiet,

and I almost answer
I was born here,

almost say we came
to find that first place,

or we were lost
when we caught the smell,

or we were hungry
and someone showed us here.

But this is a question
of contrast, not motive.

This is the moment
we become visible,

when we emerge or develop,
the only whites in a block or two.

What would the camera see?
Wood paneling behind us,

wall sawed open for another AC,
sauce-red paint on all the sills,

peeling in the salt and breeze,
and someone,

on the edge of the frame,

leaning on a car, as if watching
or talking back to me.

It's late
and now everyone is watching,

waiting as I take a breath—
vinegar and brine

in the rising wind—
everyone waiting

for the sound I'll make,
the first word I'll say.

Copyright © 2010 Jake Adam York All rights reserved
from Persons Unknown
Southern Illinois University Press
Reprinted by Verse Daily® with permission

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