The Steeple-Jack


Durer would have seen a reason for living
      in a town like this, with eight stranded whales
to look at; with the sweet sea air coming into your house
on a fine day, from water etched
      with waves as formal as the scales
on a fish.

One by one in two's and three's, the seagulls keep
      flying back and forth over the town clock,
or sailing around the lighthouse without moving their wings–
rising steadily with a slight
      quiver of the body–or flock
mewing where

a sea the purple of the peacock's neck is
      paled to greenish azure as Durer changed
the pine green of the Tyrol to peacock blue and guinea
gray. You can see a twenty-five-
      pound lobster; and fishnets arranged
to dry. The

whirlwind fife-and-drum of the storm bends the salt
      marsh grass, disturbs stars in the sky and the
star on the steeple; it is a privilege to see so
much confusion. Disguised by what
      might seem the opposite, the sea-
side flowers and

trees are favored by the fog so that you have
      the tropics at first hand: the trumpet-vine,
fox-glove, giant snap-dragon, a salpiglossis that has
spots and stripes; morning-glories, gourds,
      or moon-vines trained on fishing-twine
at the back

door; cat-tails, flags, blueberries and spiderwort,
     striped grass, lichens, sunflowers, asters, daisies–
yellow and crab-claw ragged sailors with green bracts–toad-plant,
petunias, ferns; pink lilies, blue
      ones, tigers; poppies; black sweet-peas.
The climate

is not right for the banyan, frangipani, or
      jack-fruit trees; or an exotic serpent
life. Ring lizards and snake-skin for the foot, if you see fit;
but here they've cats, not cobras, to
      keep down the rats. The diffident
little newt

with white pin-dots on black horizontal spaced
      out bands lives here; yet there is nothing that
ambition can buy or take away. The college student
named Ambrose sits on the hillside
      with his not-native books and hat
and sees boats

at sea progress white and rigid as if in
      a groove. Liking an elegance of which
the source is not bravado, he knows by heart the antique
sugar-bowl shaped summer-house of
      interlacing slats, and the pitch
of the church

spire, not true, from which a man in scarlet lets
      down a rope as a spider spins a thread;
he might be part of a novel, but on the sidewalk a
sign says C.J. Poole, Steeple Jack,
      in black and white; and one in red
and white says

Danger. The church portico has four fluted
      columns, each a single piece of stone, made
modester by white-wash. This would be a fit haven for
waifs, children, animals, prisoners,
      and presidents who have repaid
sin-driven

senators by not thinking about them. The
      place has a school-house, a post-office in a
store, fish-houses, hen-houses, a three-masted schooner on
the stocks. The hero, the student,
      the steeple-jack, each in his way,
is at home.

It could not be dangerous to be living
      in a town like this, of simple people,
who have a steeple-jack placing danger-signs by the church
while he is gilding the solid-
      pointed star, which on a steeple
stands for hope.


Marianne Moore, The Collected Poems of Marianne Moore, Viking Penguin, 1941.