William Carlos Williams called a poem “a small machine made out of words” by which he meant that it contains nothing extraneous. This week’s poem, which is a single sentence stretched out across four stanzas, bears that out. It is by Richard Foerster, who’s the author of seven books, lives in York, and has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Maine Arts Commission, as well as the Amy Lowell Poetry Travelling Scholarship.

At the Cove

By Richard Foerster

Above the first pools

at the continent’s wrack

and tatter, we waited

for the moon to swell

like a bud against the black,

and break – then saw

crisp folds of the eternal

sleeper’s blanket heave

into seethe and clatter: Love,

I whispered, hold me,

make the world strain and groan

before it grinds us down.

Notice the pleasing series of (mostly) slant rhymes that string us down the page: wrack-black-break, tatter-sleeper-clatter, heave-seethe-love, strain-groan-down.

What makes a poem is not simply sounds, however. It needs purpose and urgency, which here we have in the address to the beloved. Foerster reminds us that we must hold and be held by those we love in the face of all manner of “seethe and clatter.”

Gibson Fay-LeBlanc is Portland’s poet laureate. This column is produced in collaboration with the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. Poem copyright © 1998 Richard Foerster. Reprinted from Trillium, BOA Editions, 1998, by permission of the author.