Thorpe Moeckel


LIFEJACKETS


 

If as baby’s bibs on the four old growth
NFL linemen in my raft, the lifejackets
were like bloated articles of faith
on the Baptist youth group
who’d fifteen passengered up

from Pascagoula all night singing
Our God is an awesome God
he reigns from heaven above.

And if there was something Houdinish
in how the edgy, rose-nosed folks

from the strip joint wore them,
the executive looked as though
he’d cinched one on for years,
bound and so buoyant above
the depths, he couldn’t see

to swim. For the grocer from Greenville
with a pill bottle of nitroglycerine
duct-taped to his guide’s river shorts,
it was a straitjacket clamming
his courage like a fist, and, yes, from

the start the perfumists were aghast
at the stench – mildew, sweat-soup –
and discussed how to distill it, render
a base. But I tell you nobody wore
that Type-Five P.F.D. as stylishly

as the pecan farmer, thumbs tucked
to arm-slits as though anything
he wore would be comfortable
since tropical winds leveled his farm
last August. What did Hurricane Hugo

say to the pecan tree,
he asked the crew,
voice like leaves raised from the ground
by a gust, then settling. You better
hold on to your nuts
, he said.
This ain’t goin be no ordinary blowjob.



BRIDGE TO WOODALL


 

There must be a thousand eddies on the Chattooga River
between the bridge and Woodall Shoals, and after work
when the trips we guided were soggy memories, we'd catch

all of them, boof every angled, sloping ledge -- frontwards,
backwards, edgewards, upside-downwards; we'd surf every wave,
from the least dimple to the pulsing monsters that formed

at highwater, when the Chattooga's amaretto ran whitecapped
and fast, eroding banks, tossing deadfall as if carrots
in a giant's mouth. Fiends for breathing that galax-pungent

escarpment air, we'd put-on with haste, always ferrying
across to the South Carolina-side, first, to check the gauge,
and then do a couple of rolls, a couple of pivot turns

if the boat was low volume, making sure the skirt fit right,
that it wouldn't pop on the first ender at Surfing Rapid.
Sometimes there'd be old-timers in the shallows, turning

over rocks for jackdogs -- catfish bait -- & they'd look at us
the way shopkeepers look at skateboarders who are surfing
the sidewalk in front of their store -- techno weenies

no matter how hard we tried to be retro, in our snazzy
lifevests, our pink brain buckets. A curious hunger
drove our play -- part-obsession, part-adrenaline,

part-longing to connect with gravity, time, water,
earth; but mostly just each other, ourselves. There
was no garbage down there, no roads and no homes,

only lines, new & old, and depending on the water level
and what sort of boat you wore, and how long you'd been
wearing it, & some coefficient between where you wanted

it to go and how well you visualized it getting there, you were
on line, or off; at Surfing Rapid, S-Turn, Highwater Hole;
at Rock Jumble, Woodall, Screaming Left Hand Turn; lines,

eddy hops, elevator moves, backferries into sidesurfs,
screw-ups, three-sixties, pirouettes. "Hey, follow me,"
one of us always said, already getting momentum,

ninjastroking the little plastic casket, about to slice
into the meat of some frothing curler, some uniform pourover,
or tripped-out creekslot; and we did, of course, every time

and gladly, like disciples, hungry for salvation, we followed.



Thorpe Moeckel's work has recently appeared in The Southern Review, Hotel Amerika, Free Verse, Wild Earth, and Nantahala. A manuscript of his was a finalist for the Field Book Prize last year.