Reed Whittemore

by Reed Whittemore

I go digging for clams every two or three years
Just to keep my hand in (I usually cut it),
And whenever I do so I tell the same story: how,
At the age of four,
I was trapped by the tide as I clammed a vanishing sandbar.
It’s really no story at all, but I keep telling it
(Seldom adding the end, the commonplace rescue).
It serves my small lust to be thought of as someone who’s lived.

I’ve a war, too, to fall back on, and some years of flying,
As well as a staggering quota of drunken parties,
A wife and children; but somehow the clamming thing
Gives me an image of me that soothes my psyche
As none of the louder events—me helpless,
Alone with my sand pail,
As fate in the form of soupy Long Island Sound
Comes stalking me.

My youngest son is that age now.
He’s spoiled. He’s been sickly.
He’s handsome and bright, affectionate and demanding.
I think of the tides when I look at him.
I’d have him alone and seagirt, poor little boy.

The self, what a brute it is. It wants, wants.
It will not let go of its even most fictional grandeur,
But must grope, grope down in the muck of its past
For some little squirting life and bring it up tenderly
To the lo and behold of death, that it may weep
And pass on the weeping, keep it all going.

          Son, when you clam,
Watch out for the tides and take care of yourself,
Yet no great care,
Lest you care too much and talk too much of the caring
And bore your best friends and inhibit your children and sicken
At last into opera on somebody’s sandbar.
               When you clam, Son,

August 28, 1965, The New Yorker


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