By John Eisner


I think it began in the Keys, the night I hurried onto

the dunes in search of my sleepwalking brother.

the stars were as common and remote as freezer frost

sharks in boy scout uniforms leered from the shallows

the corpse of giant turtle lay belly up, eyeballs pecked out

by birds just a few feet from his home in the lawless sea.

or as a child, driving with my parents in

a rented car near Tallahassee. a black road

gang in stripes and chains at work breaking rocks

along route 17 while skinhead guards in

Gestapo sunglasses looked on.

the sun on fire in a perfect blue sky, except for

two stringy clouds, walk-ons in the wrong movie

or when my newly minted stepmother,

too soon after my mother’s death, stripped down to

panties and bra and with a breath dove into a frigid

Tashmoo Pond. my widowed father in a down jacket

looking on in awe. for too many reasons, as a child and

an adult, I always felt life unforgiving and death too

arbitrary to allow for future plans

now decades later, as I sit at Tony’s Taverna in

Fort Lauderdale, the rain continues to punish the coast

bending palms, and drenching cars and empty bungalow courts:

“tropical breeze,” “paradise cove,” “shore’s edge”

the names recall a time when a week by the water

was the stuff of dreams, now the flashing neon signs

speak of loved ones, now dead, being slowly forgotten.

today I’m thinking about small things:

a Greek salad with oil and vinegar, my grandson’s smile

the sound of the moon in a daytime sky

the hush in a bird cage at dusk

from the kitchen radio, a woman’s voice calls to the rain

“holding hands at midnight ’neath a starry sky

nice work if you can get it, and you can get it if you try”

while seven miles up Route 1, Bobby Romano and his

Hollywood Five are serenading the citizens of the senior

living facility. Waldo and Carol, ballroom dancing

sensations lure the elderly and infirm to join in

“When you begin the Beguine”

the black teenage dining room staff sway to the doorway rhythms … as

a depression moon drops slowly into the Gulf


John Eisner, a builder, raised two children with his wife Maureen on the Island in the 1970s. Recently returned from 3½ years in Mexico, he now lives year-round in Chilmark, in a just-completed new home.