Seaside Carnival, Late in the World



Before the boardwalk’s backdrop

of black ocean, the apocalypse prophets

stand like a seawall, a row of solemn

nightfall gulls guarding what the waves

won’t tell. In sneakers, baseball caps

and Dad’s Club jackets, they hold for hours

their signs, hand-scrawled in permanent

marker, that warn of the seven seals,

the coming end. Over these doomsday

preachers, amusement park lights

reel and flash through blown sea mist.

In the salt sticky air, tourists pass

the stern believers, their faces lost

in cotton candy clouds. The cackle

of fun-crazed kids breaks the carousel bell

clatter; stretched into awful shapes, they shrink

in the hall of mirrors. A stroller’s bent wheel

spins, rumbling across the boardwalk planks;

the pink baby rattle drops, and rolling, stops

at the black boots of one of the stone-faced

prophets. Gaps between the wooden slats show

the tide’s incessant crush below. From somewhere

out in the dark water, a far red blink,

low foghorn moans over vast folds of ocean

and the clank of an anchor or buoy. Offshore,

like a fallen constellation, searchlights scan

the sandbar and shallows for three kids

pulled by waves from the jetty at sunset, hours ago.

On the beach, their mother clutches a deflated toy,

all that’s been recovered so far. One by one,

the boardwalk lights go out. Tanned cashiers

tally the day’s taffy and rock salt sales.

The silent prophets, with no measure of whom

they’ve sold on their notions, pack up their wares

until tomorrow. Soon, the slow bloom of stars

begins over the bleached, sand-beaten town;

the red hum of VACANCY blinks at the Oceanview

Hotel. Sunburned sleepers coil in cool sheets,

as children with flashlights eye shells

and sandy treasures. And down at the dark shore,

all night long, the ocean keeps on doing

what it does—never knowing when it’s done.

–Robert Fanning from The Seed Thieves (Marick Press, 2006)