by Daniel Hoffman
The hermit of Cape Rosier has three houses:
One's atop the cragged bluff that leaps
splashing spruce out of the water, hackled pines
sawing a jagged hole in heaven. There
the hermit's house is: no door, windows like wounds,
a ribcage in a hat whose brim is eaves.
You have to know the path up there to find it;
even if you know the old back trail
you have to know the cut-off to the hermit's,
and when you get there, through the thorned blackberries
with the arched gulls shrill in the steep wind
you see Keep Out No Trespassing assigned
on trees and staves. Perhaps you are not welcome.
'Hello! Hello!' The winds snatch 'Lo!' and dash it
cragward, crumpled, down. A seahawk's nest
in winter, filled with lichen and picked fishbones
would be as hospitable as is this homestead.
Why would anyone not born to feathers
seek such isolation in the sun?
All that the senses touch up here is cleanly,
scoured by solitude in the harsh height.
Yet grant a hermit reasonable cause
to abjure our fendered comforts, still one might
search his self for the natural parts of man
in scenes more clement. Not the bleak of air
but ripeness of the earth, in summertime:
sometimes, beneath the blackberries, he searches there.
The second house the hermit lives in
some people wouldn't call a house, unless
sleeping in a cave's compatible
with the human lot. No one at Harborside
knows what got into Jethro
crouching like a woodchuck in his tunnel
while a scourge of moles rips furrows his father turned.
He's got good lands back there he never touches
except a potato plot and a row of beans;
nobody knows why Jethro won't be seen
at Meeting, store, or trade; nobody knows
just how he lives there, holed up like a marmot
while rains fall, and hay rises, and teams
move from field to field in hot July.
In woods, in the dead of summer, there's the smell
of green gone sour, of flesh the owl has killed;
delicate leafmould works its webbed decay,
a footstep stirs the leaves, and simmering death
bursts from earth behind a canopy
of green hands, giddy in the wind, that grasp the sun.
The cool of cave-mouth in the hill is dank,
the spindling spider hangs numb from his wheel,
the hemlock-guarded air is cold and still.
The other house the hermit lives in
was once a boathouse, but he has no boat.
You pass clam baskets, broken, pyramided,
and mattocks worn down at the shiny tines,
split oars, stacked driftwood, a pile or two of shells.
Peering through the fogstained saltpocked window
imagine Jethro fingering his trove:
great conches curling empty till his ear brings
titanic surfs to tunnels the silent snail
polished in solitude; bright rocks whose stain
of emerald or quartz shaft of shine the starfish
hugged beneath the tide.
Death seems nearer Jethro than it may be,
though in the village they say he's hale and sound.
Life seems precarious on his hillside,
battering windy breakers, by rot deepgnawed,
uncivil, ashake with joy and awe and wonder
at cragged Borealis
and the empty shell left on the shore.
Last updated April 25, 2023