This week’s poem has the sound turned way up. You’ll hear it in words like “pondworthier” and “windlore” and in the words and phrases that bump up against each other and make your mouth do extra work. I recommend reading it aloud.

That sound play isn’t just for fun, either. Poetry marries form and function, sound and sense in order to get at something deeper. This poem shows us what the narrator is learning from this “old guy,” about how “to be made.” “Tacks” comes from a book-length series of poems about Booker, an old Maine codger – the series is both a tribute and an elegy to a way of talking about and looking at the world.

Grumbling’s collection, “Booker’s Point,” won the Vassar Miller Prize and was published in 2017. It was also awarded the 2017 Maine Literary Award for Poetry.

Tacks

By Megan Grumbling

On Ell Pond, the mid-1990s

The old guy’s craft was wooden, sure

pondworthier than the sub-snuff

Snark – plastic, Styrofoam – I lurched

out to the middle. Seized or luffed

by my scant windlore, slack knots, lack

of knowhow, how I blundered through,

brown empties midships rolling tack

for tack, head ducked to knees or stooged

each time the cheap aluminum

boom came about. Sure didn’t fool

him, bluffing by in graceless runs

just good enough. The old guy knew

better. He sailed rings round my hack

triangles there and there and back.

I knew his Point before I dared

to know him, knew that tricky gold

of sandbar – treacherous, could tear

hell of the till – and knew the glow

of knowing it, that gleam beneath

belonging, when to switch grips, worn

sheet clenched in teeth to free hands, heave

the daggerboard, then make that turn

hard – slapdash, but in time; at least

near how it’s done. But then in swooped

that wooden boat. The old guy steered

straight for me, close enough to goose

me, grant a wry “Ahoy,” and sure show me

a way yet to be given, to be made.

Gibson Fay-LeBlanc is Portland’s poet laureate. Deep Water: Maine Poems is produced in collaboration with the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. Poem copyright © 2017 Megan Grumbling. It appears in “Booker’s Point” (UNT Press, 2017) and appears here by permission of the author.