By Catherine French

The stink of human garbage persists 
almost all the way to ocean
past the empties in bags left 
where they were finished. 
Past the Lil Caesar box thrown 
against the cliff ice plants.

At night, every ten minutes screams 
breeze in from the Boardwalk
a quick group trill as the coaster 
rounds a turn.

It’s a verge, this place,  
drawing everything to it
to feast. This year, sardines 
stipple the harbor, drawing lions 

who easefully slip around the hater boats,
skiffs and fishermen, clunky wannabees.
But once I reach the seafoam, 
it’s again the place 
where sky and water 
become indistinguishable.

The ocean has missed me
or at least lunges
to claim me 
as it claims everything.
It lips the sand, then slips back 
into the great mother.
The water rushes in and out simultaneously 

and the vertiginous head rush 
means I have to step on sand
to regain balance.
When I shake Phil’s ashes
onto an outgoing ocean pull,	
the wave threatens 

to take me with it. 
I sway, but stay upright
then walk to the lighthouse 
let the jacks, 
giant and gray,
anchor me, too.

Then I watch the uncle 
teach his nephew to fish, 
and he catches one. 
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About Catherine French

Catherine French’s first collection of poems is Sideshow, from the University of Nevada Press. She received the James D. Phelan Award from the San Francisco Foundation, and her work has appeared in The Gettysburg Review, The Nation, The Iowa Review, Mississippi Review, Zyzzyva, Poet Lore and other journals. She teaches writing at community colleges throughout the San Joaquin Valley in California.

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