Sunday, February 13, 2011

WHEN THE BIG HAND IS ON THE STARFISH



When the big hand is on the starfish
and the little hand is on the crab, you’re looking up
at the lobby clock. It's six o'clock. Now a flock
of sea-green Canada Geese, the sun’s rays
blazing over it, flies past a mass of sea life --
lobsters, turtles, sea snails, skate, make their way
through forests of seaweed. This is outside,
within the arched entranceway. Seahorses, pufferfish,
traced in terracotta, swim the front wall face
as along inlet shore rock. The same biplane
flies by twice, three times, then the same Zeppelin --
here, it is and always will be 1930,
when this was the tallest edifice in the entire
British Commonwealth. When the big hand
is on the starfish and the little hand
is on the lobster, it's three o’clock. Boats and ships
go by -- the Resolution, the Golden Hind,
the HMS Egeria, the Sonora, the Empress of Japan.
Inside again, at the five brass elevator doors,
above which sailing vessels burst out of waves
with lighting in their prows, stand five female
elevator operators, chosen for their beauty,
wearing sailor uniforms, female usherers
into hardwood interiors like ships’ cabins --
1930 is also 2009, and now they’re the flowing light
that chooses the lobby’s stained glass windows
for their beauty, and the zodiac pictured
on the polished marble floor. When the big hand
is on the starfish and the little hand
is on the turtle, it’s two o’clock. Terracotta
Canada Geese fly along the building’s sides
to meet above the brass-framed main glass doors.
This is the Marine Building, address, 355
on a street named for Sir Harry Burrard,
ex-shipmate of the captain who, at the behest
of His Majesty's Royal Navy, sailed here
to find a mysterious sea-route, and failed,  
yet mapped the area’s every intricate coastal mile.
When the big hand is on the starfish
and the little hand is on the sea snail, it’s nine o'clock,
and I'm nine, or is it seven, years old, turning
the page in Haig-Brown’s Captain of the Discovery
where the captain and a dozen of his crew
sail in the ship’s yawl through the tree-branch-
overhung narrows into the inlet. Now people
from the nation whose home is the north shore
put off in canoes to greet them and offer
freshly cooked smelts. The Englishman at once
orders his men to shorten sail and allow
the canoes to keep pace. Now he looks out
across the inlet -- which he will name for Sir Harry.
The geese that fly across his sails, and past
the bright brass buttons on George Vancouver's
blue naval coat, fly now through the brass rays
brightening the Marine Building entranceway
and framing a Discovery. When the big hand
is on the starfish and the little hand is on the crab,
it’s six o’clock again. For an instant,
or is it a lifetime, terracotta geese pass
into living geese and back again -- Art Deco.
They pass through where illustrious ships
sail by and famous buildings stand. They pass
through to living geese like the seahorses pass
through to living seahorses, like the starfishes
to those with feet fastening onto rock,
purple arms slowly decorating time.

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