Martin Willitts, Jr.

The Boat House and the Dylan Thomas Writing Shed

He would write in a shed near the Swansea Bay.
Salt spray would come from through a window,
settle as ink on paper. Gull-cry would go all day,
all night, tidal waves of non-music, more like laughter.

His wife would sunbath in the back, listening to him write
like a sailboat with no harbor and no fair winds,
all block and tackle, all empty nets full of sadness.
Slickers with rivulets of rain, fog voice reciting poems
into a stupor deep enough to know seaweeds.

The pots would be empty. The cupboards would be rotten
with silence and cobwebs. All were starving for attention.
The winds would drive fishhooks into him.
He might not notice while waiting for inspiration,
as a sailor waits for a mermaid to seduce him.
Days would be breakers smacking rocks, the stars
would be barnacles on a skiff below waterline,
and his children would know enough not to interrupt him.

In all the years he wandered through Swansea like a banshee
haunting every streetlight, every hill covered by ferns,
did any common person read or know his poems?
Anger rose in him as a swoon of quick storms. It beached
every small boat, it knocked about every sail.
He had imagined every school child, glass blower,
shop keeper placing an Open sign in a window,
widower, and sheep tender in clover fields
knowing his poems by heart. And they did not.

Only the academics wearing scholarly frowns
cared, and he did not care about them. How little
they knew—how sad the nature of man, how
intemperate the winds bringing ship loads of
worthlessness to his door, wanting to enter his skin.

He felt at home in Laugharne or Wind Street
in the No Sign Wine Bar; not with scholars.
O happy is the poet who finds his voice;
how unhappy he is when no one wants to hear it.
He could hear the voices speaking to each other,
great communities of tongues shouting
over each other, rain falling onto rain
as in nasty gale weather when all the seas
forget shores, and the shores forget dry land.

The wind was boastful in the thrashing,
speaking in the old way, the way of graves
and gravel, while he stared into the eye of a storm,
daring it to take him because he had zero
left to give; the rest was taken away long ago,
and he was way past the port of caring.

The Boat House, the graveyard, the writing shack,
all experienced the hunger of isolation. The rush-pulse
sea, the sinking feeling, the waiting for solitude
to stamp its feet before entering and pulling off
wading boots, all were terrible nights growling
with an unfed stomach. The night sea breath of porridge,
planting a kiss on a cheek as an anchor of love,
the smell of gutted fish like a ferry connecting
an island to the mainland through choppy water:
these were familiar to Dylan as words—all mouthfuls
of vowels, all sound and fury and restlessness,
all thrown darts for pints of dark beer.

His words surged back to him as if from a radio.
He recited poems, rattling paper like
turned sails against the wind. He would lower
the shed lights into small fish eyes, plunge the world
into personal darkness. He would speak in a rumble
and clang as a buoy in rough patches.
It all seemed like sunny days never came.

Author Portrait

Martin Willitts Jr. has been nominated for 11 Pushcart awards and 11 Best of the Net awards. He is the winner of the 2012 Big River Poetry Review’s William K. Hathaway Award; co-winner of the 2013 Bill Holm Witness Poetry Contest; winner of the 2013 “Trees” Poetry Contest; winner of the 2014 Broadsided award; and winner of the 2014 Dylan Thomas International Poetry Contest. He has 28 chapbooks and eight full-length collections of poetry. His forthcoming collections include Martin Willitts Jr, Greatest Hits (Kattywompus Press), How to Be Silent (FutureCycle Press), God Is Not Amused With What You Are Doing In Her Name (Aldrich Press), and Hearing the Inaudible (Poetica Publishing).