PUBLIC AND PRIVATE
I am gazing across mud flats to a public dock where
a steady procession of fishers and crabbers have spent
the day casting their hooks and nets to the shifting tides.
Faceless and unobserved behind my patio screen,
I see a young couple descend, he fishing,
she in a beach chair thumbing a magazine.
A feathery rain starts falling through diffused yellow light,
the world gone silent and still as the woman turns her chair
into an umbrella under which her lover comes to join her.
It is a scene of such startling and natural intimacy that
I think to avert my eyes, but of course I don’t, can’t,
the moth of my heart drawn to this universal flame.
The lovers barely move over long minutes, and I think of the
fine Latin phrase “in flagrante delicto” as they stand fully clothed,
public and private, open to the world and naked in their cave.
Memories form of lovers careful to lock doors and windows,
and others who opted for open skies, behind convenient trees,
where equal parts abandon and danger served up a heady cocktail.
And the cloistered confessional of my youth, the dark awful divulgence
for which we stood in line with eyes averted and heads bowed,
the public admittance of sins shared only in private whispers to the padre.
Public and private, known and unknown, anonymous and observed—
for all our want of the closed door and intimacy sparingly shared,
we are open books, known by our thousand gestures and expressions.
Revelation pours from us with unceasing profusion, even our attempts
to hold ourselves close saying more about us than we can possibly know;
we have all been on Facebook since our mothers first gazed at our face.
And so the rain relents and our fisherman steps out from his sanctuary
and casts his line into the gentle marsh, open again to the sky while his
love lowers her impromptu umbrella to resume her private reverie, observed.
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Deep appreciation to photographer Elizabeth Haslam, whose photos grace the rotating banner at the top of this page. Some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing, see more at:
Dock photo by Andrew Hidas, some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing, see more at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/93289242@N07/
Lovely. I was in an airport recently and heard someone mention sotto voce to their companion how great the people-watching was in airports. I overheard this remark unobserved, and I wondered for whom I myself was at that moment unwittingly providing the “show.”
Ellen, unless we’re living in an unconscious cocoon of self-absorption, it seems we’re watching each other much more than not, while furiously pretending not to notice a thing. Kind of expert at it, actually! I thought this poem might lead me through the byways of voyeurism—a topic unto itself—but it wound up not going there so much. And a fundamental distinction even in that is between “looking” and “seeing.” Seems to me the former is easy and a prerequisite for the latter, but the latter is where the riches are. Thanks for sharing this!