Poetry Series: Fontaine de Jouvence; Purple Finches; Dead Men’s Clothes

By Matt Bernier


Fontaine de Jouvence

As an attorney, he always began with the facts—

how many salmon he’d caught and their lengths—

but after the first scotch the Maritime rivers

turned mystical, infused with dancing golden light,

as though the few extra minutes of daylight

on summer solstice were a suspension of time,


no one aging, which is how he says he found

the fountain of youth, actually, a spring seeping

into a pool on a tributary to the Miramachi River—

dark backs of adult salmon swaying in the

cool eddy like the discarded clothes of lovers—

he’d cast toward a suspended salmon and then


reel them in as 2-year old parr, which leapt

into the warm air arched like tiny rainbows—

I pointed out that the thermal refugia must

have held brook trout too, but he raised his

hand in lawyerly objection, refilled his glass

and mine, so that we pondered the magic of ice,


groundwater seeping out of a gravel streambank

in remembrance of a glacial past, ice a mile thick,

water cycling from winter to summer like the

elliptical journey of an Atlantic salmon, up to

Greenland and then back to natal rivers, asking

whether we should still refer to jetstreams as


“currents” when they stalled in the future with

climate change, remembering the lost runs of

Downeast Maine—the Narraguagus, Machias,

East Machias, Pleasant and Dennys Rivers—

he’s chasing the Atlantic salmon north, he says,

New Brunswick then Newfoundland then Labrador,


but eventually he’s going to run out of road, find

find himself at the edge of a trackless wilderness,

dark robes of spruce trees in judgement before him—

“So fountain of youth it is,” he rests his case,

which I tell him is “fontaine de jouvence” in Quebec—

because everyone’s guilty of something.


Purple Finches

Another farmer’s obituary in the newspaper today,

and purple finches strafe over the unmown field

as if they own the place,

grasses bent over with burdens as invisible as wind,

single thistle plant rising above the dusting of snow

like a control tower;

and when they extended the runway and cut the trees,

taking his land, they say he fell quiet, watching

migrations out his window

across the patch of remaining hayfield, white as a

bandage, burning the last of the cleared oak trees in

his rusting woodstove

as the contrails crisscrossed the sky like cracked palms,

until even making a strong cup of tea felt like work;

its own reward, yes,

cup on the windowsill defrosting a hole so he could

see whom he would leave it all to, purples finches in a

gathering flock,

dressed in the pinstripes of a long ago baseball team;

all that mowing, Little League diamond and hayfield

now roughly grown up,

no time for games, everyone hopping on airplanes and

outracing great flocks of geese with plumes of carbon

and headphone rock-and-roll,

snowy owls flushed by hunger from tundra to tarmac

until they’re chased away, everyone with their wide

wings outstretched

thinking they can fly, that they invented flight and the

common sense idea of going someplace warm in winter,

cheating the seasons of life.


Dead Men’s Clothes 

Morning sun streams through the front window

of a thrift shop in a coastal Maine town

and it dawns on me that the best clothes

belonged to dilettantes,


men who owned cable stitch fishermen’s sweaters

and never set a trap or net, gentlemen farmers

who never wore out the seats of their overalls

mowing their lawns;


but that’s alright, we Mainers are in solidarity

with landfills not metastasizing like cancer;

there’s a quiet reverence, almost a holiness,

holding up flannel shirts


to an LED sunrise in a downtown storefront

on a reborn Main Street, staid and plaid,

occasional artifacts of the homegrown

industries of yesteryear


hugging us like Hathaway dress shirts sewn

beside a frothy Kennebec River in Waterville,

or Bass penny loafers handstitched in Wilton,

heels ticking across floors like time;


the all wool, all cotton, Made in Maine quality

that has no right to outlast us but often does,

a legacy of keeping next generations warm,

an afterlife, a reincarnation,


for dead men’s clothes.