A Lifetime in Verse

An excerpt from Land’s End: New and Selected Poems by Gail Mazur

Zamboni. (Flickr/zm_bn)
Zamboni. (Flickr/zm_bn)

Gail Mazur is a poet and activist who has published six acclaimed poetry collections and founded the Blacksmith House Poetry Series in Harvard Square. Her seventh and latest book, Land’s End, is a collection of 40-plus years’ worth of poems. Taken together, they represent a moving reflection on Mazur’s past and present—her love of nature, her time with friends both living and gone, and her desire to nurture younger artists. Here is “Rest Stop,” one of her newest poems in the collection.

Past grassy dunes, past Blackfish Creek, the Donut Shack, the boarded-up  basket

and beach-toy shops. Past the nurseries, their young shrubs still wrapped in burlap.


Sunday morning, a crisp spring light and hard-edged shadows, here at this nowhere place

along the route from Provincetown back to Boston where I stop to stretch


my hamstrings: left heel, then right heel propped on the car’s humming hood.

Goodwill dumpster, painted barrels, an old semi parked askew, empty,


running its motor, its driver pissing somewhere in the scrub pines. And a battered blue

van like the one my friend pulled into a rest area somewhere in Connecticut


last month, and died. Scarred picnic tables, benches attached. Crows. Birch trees.

Fat, green plastic bags stuffed with trash and tossed. One foot, then the other. . . .


He’d been elated, he was newly in love and must have felt suddenly drained

or felt vast unbearable pain. He was a quiet man, would trouble no one—


and who could or would have helped him anyway? Is that what he thought,

Who could help me? when he pulled quickly his green van off the road where


state troopers would have found it filled with his silence? Outside,

the loud whoosh of life, of traffic, the rancorous crows’ cries. Did my friend


shudder with the awful knowledge before his too-young heart stopped?

Today, here, I touch my toes, not easily but I do, today I fear what happens


to the body happens to the spirit too. Spirals of piss on dry leaves, on early poison ivy,

then the guy zips, lumbers from the wild margin back to the tarmac,


to his warm truck, and is gone. A gray car, one door a discordant yellow,

careens to the open Goodwill dumpster, its driver heaves her bags


of worn-out clothes at its open maw. The crows caw and rant bitterly,

bitter insistence on life. Be not thine own worm, George Herbert says,


and I tell myself, Summer’s coming, with sweet corn and tomatoes,

with morning swims and evening walks, then fall’s brief blaze, then icy storms.


Another year will pass, and then another— Where there are no seasons,

no commotions, how does anyone know to move through grief ?


Reprinted with permission from Land’s End: New and Selected Poems by Gail Mazur, published by the University of Chicago Press. © 2020 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved.

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

Jayne Ross is the associate editor of the Scholar.


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