David Ferry

first book published in 1960, "On the Way to the Island." He had other volumes published in 1983, 1993, and 1999.

Stuff from On the Way to the Island and Strangers

from No Country I Know, 1999

At Lake Hopatcong

A picture taken years before I was born:
My mother, her sister Sis Nellie, their mother,
Whose name was Emma Saunders Russell, holding

My sister Eleanor, a babe in arms,
My father in a stiff high collar and a boater.
My mother is smiling, her hand on her hip. She's wearing

A brimless hat (is it a toque?) with a high dark
Upstanding feather.  Sis Nellie and my mother
Are standing sideways to the car, their faces

Turned to the camera, so that together they frame
The icon of my grandmother and my sister.
I recognize from later memories

Sis Nellie's stylish intelligent-looking face,
The elegant round gold glasses.  She is wearing
A tweed coat of some relatively light color,

And a hat with a narrow brim but full above,
Gathered by a silver buckle to a peak.
My mother's wearing a dark coat with an open collar,

Showing the white blouse over a dark skirt.
The blouse has dark buttons.  The family group
Is standing in front of a high auto with tall

Thin wheels, with gracile tires and wooden spokes,
And a canvas top, a beautiful grill adorned
By a radiator cap that looks like a saltcellar.

There is a fluent decoration painted
As if incised on the surface of the hood,
Of the kind that you still can see, painted on trucks,

That gives them their incongruous feminine charm
And delicacy, as if hte figuration 
Was music playing across the metal surface.

The canvas roof of the car's like a little tent
Or pavillion someone put up to celebrate
Their Sunday outing in New Jersey, in nineteen-

Sixteen.  Probably the picture is being taken
By Uncle Frank, Frank Stanley, Sis Nellie's husband.
Because of the limits of the camera

The sky is hard to read.  Impossible to tell
The time of year on that weekend afternoon.
I think I can read in her witty-looking face,

From what a doctor told us many years later,
Some things about Nellie's subsequent life which she
Was already concealing and concealed her whole life long,

Her lifelong unbroken hymen, and I therefore know
Some things she didn't know about yet, or was only
Part way through knowing about, in all the story

Of that future, the frustrated sexuality turned
Into malice abetted and invigorated
By the cultural verve and ignorance of the place

And circumstance in which she was brought up,
At Willoughby Spit, near Ocean View, Norfolk.
But in my grandmother's face there's little to read,

Because I know little about her, so I take her
Almost "as she is," a pleasantfaced woman,
Obviously with trouble with her teeth,

As seen by the conformation of her mouth,
Smiling without opening her lips.  All I know of her
Is that my mother said she was sweetnatured

And full of equanimity; my sister's 
Memories of her in my sister's early childhood
Seem to confirm this.  And I know that my grandmother,

As a young girl, was given away to others,
From one family with many children
To another, cousins, or friends, kissing kin,

With none.  Saunders is I guess the family name
She was given into.  My father looks "handsome and youthful."
His shoes are brightly shining, and he's wearing

A dark vest and vestchain under his coat.
I'm puzzled about the straw hat that he's wearing,
Since the women's coats (my grandmother's also wearing

A heavylooking coat, black, like her hat,
Because she was widowed just a few years before)
Look heavy, wintry, or at least autumnal.

The trees look thinly leaved, as if it were
Late autumn, early spring, or winter in a place
Where dead leaves cling to trees all winter long.

You cannot tell what weather or season it is.
My mother, as in all those early pictures,
Although in this one already having lost

Her girlish slimness, looks sexually alive,
Full of energy, her hair dark, abundant,
Her smile generous (though maybe less so than

In the pictures taken a few years earlier).
Somewhere in this picture there is inscribed
The source or secret, somewhere inscribed the cause,

Of the anxious motherly torment of disapproval,
The torment not resisted by my father,
Visited by my mother on my sister,

The baby in the picture, torment that was
Perhaps in turn the cause of the alcoholism
That, many years later, the baby in the picture

Won out over.  But it's all unreadable
In this charming family photograph which, somehow,
Perhaps because of the blankness of the sky,

Looks Russian, foreign, of no country I know.

Song of the Drunkard

I don't know what it was I wanted to hold onto.
I kept losing it and I didn't know what it was
Except I wanted to hold onto it.  The drink kept it in,
So at least for awhile as if I had it,
Whatever it was.  But it was the drink that had it
And held it and had hold of me too.  Asshole.

Now I'm a card in the drink's hand while he keeps smiling
Like he doesn't give a shit in a game that's going badly,
And when death wins he'll scratch his scabby neck
With the greasy card and throw me down on the table
And then I'll just be another one of the cards
In the pile on the fucking table.  So what the fuck.

Movie Star Peter at the Supper for Street People

The style a form of concealment the way style is.
His manners seemed a parody, almost,
Of manners, a movie star of bygone days;

Strangely elaborate, highly stylized manners,
Complicit with his fame and with your praise;
Looking toward you and then away from you,

Star-like, movie-star-like, a dance routine,
The walk almost a glide, or elegant shuffle,
Always on hte verge of veering away,

Circling away and over to the other side
of the frozen skating arena that he was on;
A dancer's courtesy, the courtesy,

I mean, of the dancer to the audience,
Flirtatious and familiar, only for you,
And entirely impersonal and withheld.

All of the above, though, maybe, misses the point,
Because it seems to say he knew about
What he was doing or what the style was for,

And nothing let one be sure that this was so;
A look on his face of amusement, as if he knew
A secret that he shared with you and yet

Kept to himself, as if it only showed
The cryptogram but woudln't provide the key
To read it with.  But could he read the code?

One night, late at night, as we were driving
Home from having had dinner out, in Boston,
We saw him figure skating through Charles Street Circle,

Right through and among the circling lights of cars
As if with champion skill on thin ice whirling 
Oblivious to the astonished blaring horns,

As a dancer or skater seems, while dancing to
The music that we hear, oblivious to 
The music that we hear and listening to

Some other music heard from somewhere else.
So Peter moved like a dancer or skater through
And among the dangerous outraged cars as if

Untouchable and untouched and moving to
The sounds of something else from somewhere else-
The music maybe of his madness was it?

It was as if he skated in solitude
And glided whirling on a lonely tarn
Far out away from everything there is.

Old People 

Their old skin has the marks in it of the sea.
The patterns of waves.  Traces of sand crabs in the patterns.
Wind traces.  Splinters of seashells.  Markings of kelpfronds.

Their voices are loud against the waves coming in.
They shout out into the wind that blows back into
Their mouths the words they are trying to shout out into

The wind that blows against them.  What they possess
They possess with a fierceness that comes from a dafness that isn't
Deaf, but it hears the waves say take them, take them.

But they cry out against the waves in voices
Violent and weak I won't give in to them.
They're in a room full of people almost without

Any furniture only some metal chairs,
So the walls resound and Cerberus barks a lot.
It is a nightmare of the high school lunchroom.