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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & General Editor
Volume 8, Number 2, June 2014


Glenn G. Coats
Prospect, Virginia, USA

Boats in the Snow

Everything is cold, a bar of soap, the handle of a broom, plates in the cupboard. I switch on the electricity while my grandfather lights the kerosene stove. Then we walk through the cottage and lift the sheets that cover the furniture like ghosts. Some of the shades are broken. I raise the ones that work to let in the light. Grandfather makes coffee and we add lumps of sugar left over from last summer. I wrap my fingers around the mug to help me warm up. We talk about things we have to do and where we will begin.

We raise the garage door on the left side and it is filled with bicycles. They lean against each other. All of the tires are flat and the spokes covered with rust. I pull the bikes out one at a time, pump up the tires, oil the wheels and chains then test drive them to see if the brakes work. My grandfather tightens the seats and handlebars then makes a list of parts we need to purchase.

The other bay is a tangle of fishing rods, nets, and crab traps. I cut off the hooks and pull the old line off of the reels. Grandfather nails arms of wood to the wall and we hang the rods up where they will be out of the sand. My grandfather says that we have done enough for one day—he wants to see the water.

ice on the marsh
light shines through
abandoned nests

boathouse ruins
the wind whistles
across wires

The beach is strewn with debris, driftwood and boards, pieces of rope, broken glass, dead fish and crabs. My grandfather throws a piece of wood out on the bay and his dog swims quickly out to fetch it. “You can’t do that,” I say. “The water is like ice—he’ll get sick.” My grandfather uses his coat to dry off the dog.

A few fishing boats are anchored just off the jetty. I can’t see anyone reeling in a fish. The flounder should stir soon and Grandfather believes the run will start in a few days. We walk farther along the shoreline and look through what winter has left on the beach.

I don’t know where it is from, how long it bobbed on the water or how deep it was buried in snow. There are no numbers on the port or starboard sides of the hull—no name is painted on the stern. I know it is old by the barnacles that cover the bottom, by the lines and cracks in the paint. The boat is worn like a face that has spent too much time in the sun and wind. We drag and push it across the gravel parking lot then down the street to my grandfather’s driveway where we set it up on thick boards. “No-one owns this boat,” my grandfather says, “not anymore.”

deep in the attic
a scent of rain
in the blankets

breathing at night
the walls
thin as shirts

My grandfather is still a child when he becomes a soldier. He is not tall but strong and sturdy like an ox. It is World War I. He learns the deafening sounds of guns, the cries of the wounded, hears the last words of the dying, all the prayers. My grandfather is captured by the enemy and held prisoner outside of a Catholic church. The priest turns his back as the people in the village throw stones and spit on him. After the war, Grandfather no longer believes in God and will never again attend a church service. “God is the sea,” my grandfather says as waves toss and turn on the bay.

skinny moon
dust on the wings
of a frozen moth

the shatter of dreams
across water

We use putty knives to scrape the barnacles off the boat and scuff off the loose paint. “It doesn’t have to be perfect,” my grandfather says. “It’s just a fishing boat.” He mixes cans of paint and makes a color that is like the bay on a cloudy day. After the paint dries, I tack on letters for the name: MOBY. I name her after the whale in the famous story, the one with all the gouges and marks left by the harpoons. “She is ready for the high seas,” my grandfather says.

I row just beyond the pier and drop the anchor. My grandfather stands at the end of the pier and watches me fish. I use a small sinker and lace a strip of bloodworm on my hook. The flounder are biting. I lift each one from the water where it flaps for a moment like a bird. My grandfather calls out with each new fish, “Oh my God, Oh my God.” Even with the wind in my face, I hear his every word.

dusk under the eaves
a prayer for the fish
thrown back

coastal storm
prayers blow
out to sea



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