In the Hands of the Builder

Jennifer Atkinson Click to

jennifer-atkinsonJennifer Atkinson is the author of four collections of poetry. The fourth and most recent book, Canticle of the Night Path, which won Free Verse’s New Measure Prize, came out in the winter of 2012. Individual poems have appeared in various journals including Field, Image, Witness, New American Writing, Terrain, Poecology, Cincinnati Review, The Missouri Review, and, of course, Shenandoah. She teaches in the poetry MFA and BFA programs at George Mason University in Virginia.

A ship wrecked off Hatteras, racked,
Swamped, foundered, and pounded under
The waves to flotsam, winds up as silver

Rubble on Greenland’s graveled shore.
Half the keel, once half an oak
Felled and dragged downriver from Portland

To the Essex, Connecticut shipyard,
In the hands of the builder now becomes a roof-beam.
Planks smoothed for the ship’s garstrakes

Hang now on leather hinges—a door.
And loose hunks—shards of mast
And bow-stem—burn in the stone hearth.

Copper, potassium, sodium flare
Auroras of tropic color in the white-out
Of Greenland winter—dream-fringed

Green, rose and coral mineral fire.
In the morning cold in the rubble and ash
A black ingot of ivory-hard, fire-tried

Oak for the carver to figure and pierce
through—a knuckle-size talisman to be worn
For luck around a sailor’s neck.