The Retort Room

The Retort Room

The Retort Room

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A weekly poem, read by the author.
Oct. 27 1999 3:30 AM

The Retort Room

Abandoned, it had tottered for years
on the water's lip, or lap. Squatter-pigeons
occupied its nights, dreaming of drowning in glottals.


Then suddenly some trucks arrived
and hauled away enormous rusted remnants
of the cannery's cookery. Inside a week,

the great stained concrete that had poured down
fifty years and twenty feet into the tide
was sheathed in plywood trundled from

a local lumberyard. The whole place bloomed
with polyester greenery and sky-blue styrofoam.
And sure enough, from somewhere south,

with a flourish of romance, and a big RV,
he brought his wife of decades here to live
in dreamland--at the dead end of the island's

eastmost street, where he would twinkle,
she abide. The new red retort room
now bore his greatest masterwork:

nailed near the Wal-Mart welcome sign, a homemade
six-foot jigged-out replica of trawler, painted up
as jaunty as you like, the city-cousin of the working ones

that trudged the fishless fathoms on the house's darker side.
It was his bid at immortality: we liked him more, the more
he tried. He beamed past every tiredness of a day (retired

by choice!), past eking out, past aching in. He shone
like someone past the past, with whom resides
what conquers all. And then she died.

Heather McHugh's most recent collection of poetry, Hinge and Sign: Poems 1968-1993, was nominated for a National Book Award.