Monday, November 19, 2012

A Secret World — A Special Soliloquy

Inside the books...

Is where I find Lulu, in the family room scanning the tall shelves, the hundreds of books. Have you read all of these? she asks.

Ah huh, I nod, just about. Wait, maybe I didn't read Sister Carrie.

Wow! I don't know why I hadn't noticed these before. I never really looked at them all. 

Yes, I say, well it's not a big deal. I've had a half century to read stories.

Lu swipes her paws across the paper spines and smiles, Hmm, true, but it's still a lot of books.

These books have been my secret worlds. Each one of them, with their own special suns and stars, seas and rivers, pyramids, canyons, gulags. They are made from Poof! Just like this multifaceted planet on which we make our home.

Max tells me that it all started with a bubble, or foam, from which things popped. Or fizzed. I ask him where the bubble, or maybe the foam, came from. There must have been air. Was this the kind of foam in which you could take a bath? He shakes his head, up, down, Yup, yup, that's the question! Exactly.

Planets, universes, worlds, or books—the Poof! came from something. May I suggest, a mastermind?

This was the world before Poof: someone, something, yes, a mastermind conceived a plot, a situation, characters, conflict, tension, climax, resolution, catastrophe, revelation, and designed, created, this story within a dramatic structure, along a sweeping arc, born of a secret world, and put it (and run-on sentences, too) out there, in the air, in space, in the universe, on the planets, on Earth, on bookshelves, at Amazon, for us. For our pleasure.

This is true.


This January I will be joining another kind of secret world. For the next two years, in this mystical, somewhat secluded bubble of a world (a/k/a  The Bennington Writing Seminars at Bennington College), I will be working with some brilliant and highly regarded authors, and will be reading no less than one-hundred books. And maybe, writing one. Actually, I'm registered, matriculated, and have already begun the work. January will bring the first of five ten-day residencies over the following two year period. This full-time process, in theory, should culminate with a Master of Fine Arts degree in writing and literature.

I'm pretty excited.

And terrified.

I am not a mastermind, but I'm hoping for a big Poof!

This, of course, will require a lot of dark (or white) space for a while. Not quite a vacuum, but a space with clear, colorless, odorless air in which to breath, void of fiery comets or space debris, or anything that has the potential to crash into my secret world and throw me off course. You know what I mean. It will require many days at the library. Cloistered. So here, my friends, may be my last post for a long while. I won't say forever. But, well, you know I'm no multi-tasker.

Saturday night, Michael and I went out to listen to Red Molly, a girl band (as they refer to themselves), a really fabulous girl band about whom I wrote, in a Frolic, nearly a year and a half ago. They were performing in a small town in Massachusetts. There, in an acoustically perfect coffeehouse, at the very end of the evening, past 11:00 PM and bordering on breaking some serious rules (wrap it up girls—our traffic detail needs to go home!), they sang their final song.

May I suggest.

And this song, I forward to you, a Thanksgiving of sorts, a Thank You. Until I once again emerge from my secret world...


May I Suggest
By Susan Werner

May I suggest

May I suggest to you

May I suggest this is the best part of your life

May I suggest
/ This time is blessed for you

This time is blessed and shining almost blinding bright

Just turn your head
/ And you'll begin to see

The thousand reasons that were just beyond your sight

The reasons why /
Why I suggest to you

Why I suggest this is the best part of your life

There is a world

That's been addressed to you

Addressed to you, intended only for your eyes

A secret world

Like a treasure chest to you

Of private scenes and brilliant dreams that mesmerize

A lover's trusting smile
/ A tiny baby's hands

The million stars that fill the turning sky at night

Oh I suggest
/ Oh I suggest to you

Oh I suggest this is the best part of your life

There is a hope

That's been expressed in you

The hope of seven generations, maybe more

And this is the faith
/ That they invest in you

It's that you'll do one better than was done before

Inside you know
/ Inside you understand

Inside you know what's yours to finally set right

And I suggest
/ And I suggest to you

And I suggest this is the best part of your life

This is a song

Comes from the west to you

Comes from the west, comes from the slowly setting sun

With a request / With a request of you

To see how very short the endless days will run

And when they're gone

And when the dark descends

Oh we'd give anything for one more hour of light

And I suggest this is the best part of your life

Monday, November 12, 2012

Beyond Moonstone and Broken Stone

I didn't tell you the whole story.

Back in South County, along the coast of Rhode Island. The day that I stood on the seaweed and garbage-strewn edge of a chewed-away beach. Sizing it up. Whole chunks devoured. Agape, I stood surveying a wounded shoreline, gnashed and sliced with mechanical precision, a chainsaw steel-toothed-blade slashing. Here you are Lil Rhody: a newly chiseled ribbon of beachfront.

That's what she said to me, Hurricane Sandy, as she flossed her choppers. I listened further. My ears buzzed with the saw's vibration. A tinnitus. Hiss. (I wondered if her steely jaw hurt as much as mine did after a night of vigorous grinding.)

Now exposed a foot or more above the shiny, sabulous floor are three concrete septic tanks. Now an orange net of fencing assuredly tells visitors to not climb wood stairs, to not roam wood decks. We don't know what's safe. We don't know what might give under foot. Or what might topple overhead. And who knows, in this cycle of storms, how long it will take before we are able to tend to this beach's wounds.

Sandy's hiss lingered. Driving Rhode Island's roads I had noticed how all the trees, with the exception of evergreens, in the area and around the state had been prematurely shorn bare. Another reminder that our fall has not been like ordinary falls past. None of the seasons, truly, have been like those past, and there has been, undeniably, altered weather patterns throughout the year, a change in our climate, and I feel the loss. The resulting melancholy that grips me has become inescapable.

*   *   *

Out there, where the continent ends, a mob of seagulls swarmed above the churning waters, in search of... Something. Food. Companionship. Entertainment. They jostled above the smooth-stoned jetty, eyed its pummeling by the wildly relentless surf. They squawked discordantly, and hustled easily through knotty wind, steeling crab-scrap from one another. Scrap is plenty and they are a greedy lot. They are no better than ambulance-chasing lawyers, they are opportunists. (This explains their longevity, as well their repulsiveness.) Go away, you opportunistic kleptomaniacs!

Why are seagulls called seagulls when they are not confined to the sea? In fact, they do not venture far out above the ocean, and very often, they are found inland: at freshwater lakes, in the parking lots of football stadiums or theaters, or at big-boxed shopping centers that sadly occupy corner lots of every other town in America.

*   *   *

But before I'd reached the beach in South County, before stopping by at the Shopping Center in Westerly that I manage, before assessing the damage to a pylon sign, I had visited my dermatologist, Dr. Kirk in East Greenwich. There, I had the angry, seething mole—a mole that had for many summer nights kept me awake, this, the mole from which I could not vacation, a mole that had burrowed into the fold of my right armpit and maddened my mental health—excised, as well as another bothered mole that had, like any good, large-pawed mole, dug itself a home and taken a seat on the backside of the equator of my body. The waistline is not a sitting or nesting area. It is too heavily trafficked by garments of the day and evening. There, fine silks, cashmeres and cottons carouse, and stumble, get caught, on anything in their way. They do not appreciate this. Neither does the no-sitting area. So there, they are hewn down like all the trees or tree limbs that fell just days before. Or like any tree that does not bear good fruit. They are hewn almost precisely like trees, only on a smaller, more sterile scale: a numbing agent applied to the area via syringe not only numbs the mole and its underlying/surrounding skin, but also puffs it up into a small mound so that the now protruding and exposed bugger may be sliced from its nest by a hand-held straight edge blade. It is more efficient, in fact, than cutting the tree, as no stump remains, no inviting perch or tunnel.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Aurora is Rising Behind You

Last week, after Sandy gnashed her way northward, I took a drive down to the town of Westerly at the southwestern tip of Rhode Island (which, it appears, is too tiny to give mention in the Wiki link provided, other than to power-loss numbers), where I manage a small shopping center, and then turned back north, up along Rhode Island's coastline. Our 8,000 square foot center, which is about a mile in from the coast, did fine with the exception of the loss of two south-facing signs on the center's large pylon, but much of the southern coast of this little state was reduced to rubble by Sandy's outer bands of wind and storm surge, and several homes along Westerly's Misquamicut beach seemed to be devoured whole, trace timber crumbs scattered along the shoreline.

The she-storm's aftermath felt oddly quiet. Maybe, though, it was just my mind. My mind taciturn. I could not locate words as I drove past stretches of rough-surf beach and golden farm and tragically but beautifully broken stone walls—all kinds of debris spewed across field and road and beachfront but not a word to be found. I took pictures and made mental notations, wondering how many insurance claims one company can handle, absorb. I would need to make a call myself. When I found the words.

Just beyond the breachway, as I sat in my car at the edge of Wawaloam Drive in Weekapaug, overlooking Block Island Sound, I thought, too, about poetic sequence, in particular mine (you know, the one I'm writing, the theme of which is my expectation of and ultimate disappointment with New England's seasons), how I had developed only a loose narrative in the five poems I'd written to date, and how I hadn't yet written a sonnet. Here, certainly, was drama enough for sonnet, and, well, I must write a sonnet! On my northward drive I turned east toward Moonstone, but when I arrived the beach had been closed off entirely. Standing at the cordoned off gate of Moonstone Beach Road, watching military helicopters whirling across the sky, listening to the ocean's post-Sandy low-pitched hymn, inhaling its aroma, swallowing the romantic pinks and purples of a warm aurora, the silent, wordless current cascading through the narrow valleys of my mind was instantly, galvanically, awakened and I knew at once what I hadn't before fully digested: my poetic sequence was not only about my expectations, my disappointments—how I perceived seasons to be failing in almost legendary fashion—but rather a sequence that speaks to the much larger and universal issue of climate change. And Sandy, this badly behaved November storm, came with her own tale, a growing thematic narrative, one of which might well be called Global Warming.

What had I taken on?

Springsteen's Sandy may never have come back, but I have this woeful feeling that she-storms like Sandy will return with more frequency, with high drama and little romance, and in their wakes will leave the same catastrophic hymn, salty aroma and burning aurora as Sandy. I wonder how this will change the game, what bills we'll bring to congress, which shall pass into laws, and which laws—other than zoning laws which shall certainly be modified to address the rising seas—may be nullified or amended.

(Just this morning, Think Progress posted an article which asks if Sandy is "[...]a 'Cuyahoga River Moment' for Climate Change." Cuyahoga is the Ohio river that, at one time, was known for being the most polluted river in the US. Littered with trash and slicked with oil, it burned several times; it's infamous 1969 burning sparked a number of water pollution laws, including the Clean Water Act.)

What are we taking on?

At tonight's high school soccer banquet, no one seemed to be talking politics (but then again, I don't bring it up). But I know tomorrow, at the polls, I won't be the only voter wondering, and maybe gabbing about, which candidate will address and act upon the very real threat, the course, of global warming. Who will truly be compelled to honor the subject, ask central questions, demand answers, reckon with his presidential sensibilities, and see it through—bringing real action and change. This is much more than politics, and I wonder who prefers writing the poetic sequence over the punchline.  There is an aurora rising behind and above us. Poetry. Pure poetry.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Don't Look At Me That Way

Since there's no doubt, at least here in Cucumberland, that we are about to lose power I thought I'd take a moment to compose a post before the opportunity flickers into obfuscation. (Actually, I'm sneaking this in between outages.) See, this is how it works here. Things go dark. Not only during hurricanes or tropical storms, or even days that bluster gently (yes, this is possible), but also during a total, all-embracing tempest known as writer's block. This has been the case for me for the last two weeks. With the exception of poetry, I've written zilch. But throw an obstacle on my course—please!—make it something that—if it can't be avoided—I'll hit hard, make time count, right down to the wire, then maybe, just maybe, I'll produce.

(Perhaps I trust that I really do work better under pressure.)

Then there is Lu, who, in her sparkly blue-eyed youth, has again drifted outside in the midst of this tropical storm. Her father found her in the street, barefoot on hard-packed tar, face lifted into the driving rain and howling winds, red maples and pines reaching out to her. She to them.

What are you doing out there? He calls to her.

(She is communicating. Does he not know?)

Just wanna walk around, I need fresh air, it's raining, it's a hurricane, and I want to be outside in it, she answers casually.

Fresh air. Really darling, come in. Come in to where it's safe. Come away from under electrical wires and trees that go snap in the wind. She can't though. She's compelled to be in and under all those things, these treacherous things that carry impellent power over all reason. Why is it we strangely and instinctively want to center ourselves in the core of a storm? In Rhode Island, mandatory evacuations have been declared in several low-lying and coastal communities. But by the seawall in Narragansett poncho-festooned people wait just behind the stone barrier for waves to crash against and over it, as if the rain and wind is not enough. It's not. They want to feel the surge. They want, they need, storm to surge flesh and soul. After all, this is the kind of obstacle that wakes us, isn't it? This is the surge that tells us we're still alive!

Don't look at me that way, she says. And if she doesn't say it, her face does. In what way does she mean?


I understand the urge for a surge. Even in these partly-sparkly hazel-eyed middle years, I appreciate the rush of a dangerous storm surge, or a blackout, or a deadline. It speaks to my very core. A generative reminder that time passes in a flash. Grab it. Communicate. Write, dammit.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Ocular Allusions

What it is about the seasons lately, failing to meet my expectations by, one might say—at least here in New England—continually failing to season, has ignited in me a nagging sense of loss and, well, just plain glumness. (Nagging because it's a rare Day that performs as it should within the framework of its given season; Day has become defiant, belligerent—refusing to comply, he turns away and knocks Expectation on its head. He rebels! I nag!) This is the glum loss about which I am writing in a series of poems, a poetic sequence, for a poetry class that I'm currently taking with Catherine Imbriglio at Brown Continuing Studies.

There are twelve of us, poets (though I'd hardly plunk myself in this particular category, but I will fake it for the duration of the six weeks), casting a sequence of poems linked, for the most part, by either form or theme. And I will fake it further because I need to believe that this can be done. Six poems, or more, linked by this glum/loss theme. Belligerent Days that become belligerent Seasons that become belligerent Years!

The good news: my eyesight is improving. It's true! Maybe it's the changing light of our seasons. Maybe I really AM growing younger! When my ophthalmologist had me sit behind what she called, and what I could not then spell, a phoroptor—a word I couldn't release from my mind, what I heard as and what I quietly recited so I'd not forgetFROPPER FROPPER, FROPPER! (what a strange name for an instrument) (as it turns out FROPPER is a social networking site specializing in Indian dating)—she found that, within the past year, I was minus (or is it plus in phoroptor language?) .50 from the prior year's examination. That puts me at -3.25! Which means that maybe I won't need readers in the supermarket. Heh. And wasn't I happy for the phoroptor, even if I couldn't spell it, but now that I can the image in my mind has turned to a beast—a highly photogenic (and perhaps Vietnamese) dinosaur.  PHOROPTOR!

That was this morning. When I left my ophthalmologist's office I was so happy to be at positive (or is it negative?) phoroptation I decided to take a little walk so as to let it all sink in. And there, to the left, to where I turned my rejuvenated oculi, was this magnificent, versicolor (word of the day) tableau and I quick-grabbed (because Day, like a smart-mouthed teenager, can turn on me at any moment) my iPhone and shot what was, what is, undoubtedly, Day behaving like Fall! Compliant FALL!

(This is not good for my poetic sequence—which might very well be titled Ocular Delusions. And which now seems as old as a dinosaur.)

And because my disposition has shifted widely from glum to blithe and I cannot, at this very moment, be too disappointed in Day (even if he still knocks Expectation sideways), I'm going to sign out by offering one last poem (not one of mine) from yet another former U.S. Poet Laureate, which shall also serve to top off the grand callithump parade that is to come (believe what I say—it will!). 

Introducing Philip Levine (in a video of much better quality than that of which I was able to capture), all the way from Brooklyn, NY, giving us a little lesson and believing everything he says:

Black Wine

Have you ever drunk the black wine - vino negro -
of Alicante?  The English dubbed it Red Biddy
and consumed oceans of it for a pence a flagon.
Knowing nothing - then or now - about wine,
I would buy a litre for 8 pesetas - 12 cents -
and fry my brains.  Being a happy drunk,
I lived a second time as a common laborer
toiling all night over the classic strophes
I burned in the morning, literally burned,
in an oil barrel outside the Palacio Guell,
one of the earliest and ugliest of Gaudi's
monuments to modernismo.  Five mornings
a week the foreman, Antonio, an Andalusian,
with a voice of stone raked over corrugated tin,
questioned the wisdom of playing with fire.
He'd read Edgar Allen Poe in the translations
of Valle-Inclan and believed the poets
of the new world were madmen.  He claimed an affair
with Gabriella Mistral was the low point
of his adolescence.  As the weeks passed
into spring and the plane trees in the courtyard
of the ancient hospital burst into new green,
I decided one morning to test sobriety,
to waken at dawn to sparrow chirp and dark clouds
blowing seaward from the Bultaco factory,
to inhale the particulates and write nothing,
to face the world as it was.  Everything
was actual, my utterances drab, my lies
formulary and unimaginative.
For the first time in my life I believed
everything I said.  Think of it: simple words
in English or Spanish or Yiddish, words
that speak the truth and no more, hour after
hour, day after day without end, a life
in the kingdom of candor, without fire or wine.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

A Callithump Parade

Since I've been run down and not feeling well of late, making it a bit difficult to see the world, to read, never mind write (and converse, OY!, forgedaboudit!), I'm going to attempt to dazzle you, first, with some original photography; second, with more original photography; third, with engaging video; and fourth, with, well, more engaging video.

Part I
This is what I call the prelude to the Arrival of the Martians at Barnstable Harbor. They are coming, you know. After all, we did invade their extraterrestrial territory. They are due in three weeks or so, just in time for the grand callithump that is known as Halloween. (Now you believe me—don't you?—that I am quite ill.)

I'm posting this particular photo because, unfortunately, I will not be in Barnstable for Halloween and therefore will not be able to offer photo-documentation of the actual coming, or landing, of the Martians. But rest assured, the above is honest evidence that I was, indeed, in Barnstable Harbor for the psychedelic Martians-are-coming prelude. (I'd better warn my mother-in-law.)

Part II

While in New York a couple of weeks ago, I met (I'm using that term loosely, although I really do think, er, believe, that I met) U.S. Poet Laureate (2001-2003) Billy Collins  at the Brooklyn Book Festival, as well as the Pulitzer Prize-winning, U.S. Poet Laureate (2011-2012) Philip Levine. Seated directly in front of me, he was, Billy Collins. Eyes penetrating my glazed, hazel irises. We shared a smile. A wink. A...

You don't believe me, do you? Here, another photo—taken just before the shared winks:

(OK, well I practically met Billy Collins.)

Part III

But, let's get back to the Martians for a moment. Here, in this contemplative poem, Billy recites the derelictions of certain Martians with whom we are familiar, Martians whom, without thought or, sometimes, expression, land on, and feed off of, our verdant, selfless earth, often forgetting to reseed:

(The young gentleman seated beside Billy Collins is Ishmael 'Ish' Islam, New York City's 2012 Youth Poet Laureate. He may be one of those Martians, though, I think not. See Ish, the award winning poet and producer, here, reading his poem Daydreaming at the Voting Booth.)

Part IV

And now, to round off this shivaree, one last reading by Mr. Collins, inspired by the poem Drinking Alonewritten by Li Po, whom we might also describe as one of those self-indulgent Martians:

Beware the Martians. Do not, under any circumstance, let them drink alone! (Or just plain drink.)

Friday, September 21, 2012

Friday Night Frolic — Acorns

Tuesday was not just a wedding anniversary it
was grey and blustery, rain-soaked
intervals and intervals that couldn't
decide whether they
were intervals

Nineteen years ago, Tuesday, it was the same
grey morning spit which did not stop a golf
game, a walk along the ocean and into
church and everyone said it meant
good luck

But luck is hardly a factor except
when you're down on your luck
and your spouse looks as
grey as the day you
were married

Or the day nineteen years later when you're walking
the dog, or the cat, or the pig or whatever it is
you've domesticated and from the south a storm
of all colors churns maple and oak leaves
and acorns

A day more menacing than the day you were
married enamored of one another, long
before sweet quirks actualized as
annoyances that drove
you crazy

Like his pathological resistance to plan anything or
engage in hyper polemics, as opposed to, say
avoidance, or his addiction to e-bay and
old movie posters too big for
mere walls

(And you thought, you really thought, that
you wouldn't mind if he ate crackers in
your bed)

How is it one in every two marriages survive?
When the veins of heaven distend with squalls
and the oak's acorn-spittle flops on your  head
you quicken pace and feel bad that you ever
loathed him

That there were those moments, days, months, when you loathed
one another—year two, year five, year twelve, year...
the sky and pavement bend heliotrope and two wide-eyed
squirrels chase barb-capped nuts, acorns as dark
as mahogany

They taste of bitter tannin but the squirrels don't mind
they pounce on fallen mast knowing the cache
which is to be their sustenance in the cold
dark months is all that will get
them through

And then, an interval

Great berry chromatic bursts, wind funneling acorns
into its vortex, you're in the storm's eye which
seems oddly not annoying or vile, and as it
spins out on the tar it dumps brilliant
green acorns

In your pocket you place two firm, sage-lacquered
nuts, bring them home as a warm breeze carries
your back.

*     *     *

The Acorn's first release, The Pink Ghosts (2004), was a sumptuous tribute to the band's native Ottawa. Since then, The Acorn has gone on to record several albums, including the acclaimed Glory Hope Mountain (2007), an anthology of mellifluous and vivid stories inspired by song writer Rolf Klausener's Central-American-born mother. And later, No Ghost (2009), described (direct from their website) as: 
...a recording swaddled in dichotomy: togetherness and isolation, acoustic and electric, destruction and restoration.
Which began as:
...hazy late-night improvisations, early morning melodies pulled from the thinning threads of sleep. Modernity clashed with the bucolic via exploratory percussion, feedback, acoustic textures and the natural surrounding sounds.

 Watch those acorns!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Heart Dies of this Sweetness

Today's Weekend Wisdom photograph (my rain-drenched Rose of Sharon) is inspired by poet Brigit Pegeen Kelly, whose work was introduced to me last summer by  Darcie Dennigan during a three day poetry workshop. The poem, a beautiful rhapsody/tragedy, entitled The Rose of Sharon, published in The Orchard can be found in its entirety here. This poem came to me yesterday when, peering through a southern facing bedroom window in my home, I noticed how my enormous Rose of Sharon (three of them grouped together, actually) was lunging forward toward lofty, water-jammed downy cheeks that pressed back the noon sun. Wet and heavy with storm, the branches dangled perilously above smaller hedges and a pine tree. We've let the lot go wild. It's outgrown the bed, become unruly and, I'm afraid, is moving toward a mass beheading.

(And what I've done to Tree of breath, Pride of my heart, Pool of my scented breath is simply unforgivable!)

I didn't know a thing about Kelly's work before last year. I returned to her poems, more than just The Rose of Sharon, only of late—for their soothing, pleasing prosody, the juxtaposition of violence and splendor, and for Kelly's general approach to our protean world.

Here, a heart wrenching poem from Kelly's collection of poems, Song.


Listen: there was a goat's head hanging by ropes in a tree.
All night it hung there and sang. And those who heard it
Felt a hurt in their hearts and thought they were hearing
The song of a night bird. They sat up in their beds, and then
They lay back down again. In the night wind, the goat's head
Swayed back and forth, and from far off it shone faintly,
The way the moonlight shone on the train track miles away
Beside which the goat's headless body lay. Some boys
Had hacked its head off. It was harder work than they had imagined.
The goat cried like a man and struggled hard. But they
Finished the job. They hung the bleeding head by the school
And then ran off into the darkness that seems to hide everything.
The head hung in the tree. The body lay by the tracks.
The head called to the body. The body to the head.
They missed each other. The missing grew large between them,
Until it pulled the heart right out of the body, until
The drawn heart flew toward the head, flew as a bird flies
Back to its cage and the familiar perch from which it trills.
Then the heart sang in the head, softly at first and then louder,
Sang long and low until the morning light came up over
The school and over the tree, and then the singing stopped. . . .
The goat had belonged to a small girl. She named
The goat Broken Thorn Sweet Blackberry, named it after
The night's bush of stars, because the goat's silky hair
Was dark as well water, because it had eyes like wild fruit.
The girl lived near a high railroad track. At night
She heard the trains passing, the sweet sound of the train's horn
Pouring softly over her bed, and each morning she woke
To give the bleating goat his pail of warm milk. She sang
Him songs about girls with ropes and cooks in boats.
She brushed him with a stiff brush. She dreamed daily
That he grew bigger, and he did. She thought her dreaming
Made it so. Everything looked strange. It was as if a storm
Had passed through while she slept, wind and stones, rain
Stripping the branches of fruit. She knew that someone
Had stolen the goat and that he had come to harm. She called
To him. All morning and into the afternoon, she called
And called. She walked and walked. In her chest a bad feeling
Like the feeling of stones gouging the soft undersides
Of her bare feet. Then somebody found the goat's body
By the high tracks, the flies already filling their soft bottles
At the goat's torn neck. Then somebody found the head
Hanging in a tree by the school. They hurried to take
These things away so that the girl would not see them.
They hurried to raise money to buy the girl another goat.
They hurried to find the boys who had done this, to hear
Them say it was a joke, a joke, it was nothing but a joke. . . .
But listen: here is the point. The boys thought to have
Their fun and be done with it. It was harder work than they
Had imagined, this silly sacrifice, but they finished the job,
Whistling as they washed their large hands in the dark.
What they didn't know was that the goat's head was already
Singing behind them in the tree. What they didn't know
Was that the goat's head would go on singing, just for them,
Long after the ropes were down, and that they would learn to listen,
Pail after pail, stroke after patient stroke. They would
Wake in the night thinking they heard the wind in the trees
Or a night bird, but their hearts beating harder. There
Would be a whistle, a hum, a high murmur, and, at last, a song,
The low song a lost boy sings remembering his mother's call.
Not a cruel song, no, no, not cruel at all. This song
Is sweet. It is sweet. The heart dies of this sweetness.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

On Capturing the Surreal

It was like this. Surreal. The Outer Cape. Come Saturday morning there were barely a dozen bodies on the beach. No. Twelve exactly. I counted. There had been an electrical storm the night before, morning was grey, but by 9:30 AM the clouds were beginning to slowly disperse southeast over the Atlantic. At 10:30 AM, lunch in backpacks, we mounted our bikes and peddled along the sandy, narrow road, following the deep grooves of wide tire treads set in clay. At the top of the wooded hill, we could barely see the ocean but we heard it like we hear, from a mile away, the soft hum of a highway during rush hour. The pine-covered path that wound down, in serpentine fashion, took us through tall, dancing oaks and merry, berried bushes and out to a paved road leading to the ocean. Lulu piloted the way.

It was like this.

Surreal. The Outer Cape. Nearly every day (and on a few days, very soon after the storms cleared), in northern Wellfleet, abutting Truro, we set our low chairs, blanket and small cooler along the wide expanse of Newcomb Hollow Beach, where the forest, gushing out to sea, falls off in a dramatic one-hundred foot sand plunge, and its rosehip, bearberry and boulder strewn dunes tell a marly, striated history of life along the coastline. (These are the great dunes that Henry David Thoreau called "the backbone of the Cape.") Vegetation clings perilously to the edges of these sand banks, and at the foot of the fallen earth lie injured, traumatized, forest scrub.  It was on this beach, before the inexhaustible sea, that I read to my husband, from Thoreau's Cape Cod, "The breakers looked like droves of a thousand wild horses rushing to the shore, with their white manes streaming far behind; and when at length the sun shown for a moment, their manes were rainbow tinted." To which he, eyes still fixed on Richard Zacks's The Pirate Hunter, replied: Wow. Is that ever overwritten. (Which makes me wonder, now, if I am doing the same.) But the breakers, the gurgling white breakers, from a certain angle, did look like the streaming manes of a thousand wild horses rushing to the shore.

At least to me.

It was on this beach, too, where little terns scattered and herds of seals bobbed in the aqua froth, that Max ran barefoot every day--straight into Truro, along deserted ivory sands, way, way out of our sight. On one such run, as Lu and I ate lunch, I became aware that Max had been gone a long time. Too long. And I had grown concerned. Almost an hour into his run, my phone rang. It was Max. Mom, he said, Mom! And then, the phone cut out. Now, I was more than concerned. I tried reaching him several times, but there was no reception. (On the outer Cape, the valleys and hollows, including the shoreline, are almost entirely dead zones.) Moments later my phone rang again. Max had climbed one of the steep sand slopes--the only spot in which he could find a smidgen of cell phone reception. Immediately I asked if he was OK.

Yes! he hollered into the phone. But there's a seal! A beached seal, and I don't want him to die. I've been cupping water in my hands and tossing it over him to keep him hydrated.

What? Max hun, I explained, seals don't get beached. They're not whales--it's normal for them to come on shore. They can scoot back into the water. He's probably just resting.

Yes, but he's bleeding. His flippers are torn up. He said, too, that he was the only person on the beach. No one else in sight. Which is the way it is in lower Truro, where few roads lead directly to the coastline.

This boy. Kind heart. I felt his worry. (He is the boy who, once, as a four-year-old, eyeing the stations of the cross in church, cried out, What are they doing to Jesus! They're hurting him!) I told him that the seal would be fine. It would go back into the sea and the salt water would heal the wounds. And then I instructed him not to get too close to the seal, not to touch it, especially since it seemed hurt. And then--I don't know why, perhaps I felt deprived of mammal intimacy--I told him to take pictures with his phone, from a distance, to get off the dunes, where he was not supposed to be, and to run back to where I was beached.

When Max returned a half hour later he told me that he had zigzagged down the dunes--so as not to cause this great escarpment to collapse--and then ran toward the area where the seal had been resting only to find that his friend was gone. Returned to the sea. But before he called me from the top of the sandy slope, before he even thought to set his fingers on any buttons, or worry about collapsing dunes, he said, he sat face to face with the seal on the empty shoreline. Just him and the seal. The seal and him. And the seal barked ever so slightly, and Max gently said Hello back.

So the seal is fine. I said.

Yeah, he's good. He smiled.

You had a moment with the seal. That's pretty special, don't you think?

I do. Yup. I do. And then he dug into the cooler and pulled out a water and a turkey sandwich.
It was like this.

Surreal. The Outer Cape.

During an eight-year span in the mid-19th century, Henry David Thoreau set out on four walking tours of Cape Cod. Two of these tours were solo, and two were with the company of his friend and poet, William Ellery Channing, whom had previously advised Thoreau to go out into the briars and build a hut. Thoreau took Channing's advice in earnest. The book that followed that excursion is Walden. The book that followed Thoreau's Cape Cod jaunts is Cape Cod, which is the book that I read on the sand bar that is Cape Cod. It seems that these haunting, and haunted, sands are the closest I may ever get to experiencing a real desert. The Cape Cod National Seashore, in fact, is a kind of desert island. One can sit on the seashore for hours almost entirely alone, even in the hottest, dog days of summer. This graceful arm, especially its soft, sandy wrist to fist, has a history of luring artists and writers to its shores. In the dunes of Provincetown, through which we biked, we were reminded of the writer's shacks of years ago. A few still remain. Eugene O'Neill and Norman Mailer both, at one time, lived in these dune shacks. From a tiny, grey hut overlooking the Atlantic (so the story goes), Tennessee Williams wrote The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire. Here, on the Outer Cape.


And then, a friend of my husband's, who had led us, on our bikes, through several miles of hilly dunes at the tip of the Cape tells us that Mary Oliver is a Wellfleetian. Imagine. Mary Oliver in Wellfleet. (I hadn't heard or read this before, or if I had I'd forgotten.)  I wanted to imagine that I would run into her the next morning while sipping coffee out on the deck in front of The Flying Fish in downtown Wellfleet. But then, I looked her up--the Bard of Provincetown--to find only a P.O. Box number in P-Town. Maybe I misunderstood when he said, "She lives right here." But we were sitting on the brick patio of a Main Street, Wellfleet, restaurant. Right here, on the Outer Cape, may mean almost anywhere on the Outer Cape. (Oliver's bio on states that she currently resides in Provincetown.)

We had dinner in Truro the night before we left the Cape. Most nights had been cloudy and threatening, but this evening, our last, was clear and dry. Before we returned to our rental in the woods we stopped by Newcomb Hollow for a last look at the falling sands, the beach, the breakers. Along the shore a few bonfires blazed, some had been abandoned and smoldered. We listened to crackling fires, to waves piling up against what seemed the edge of the universe. The night was very dark, black-dark, and we proceeded carefully down the slope, onto the beach, where we stood under the flawless dome of a flickering galaxy.

No. It was more than flawless. Impossibly beautiful, it was. Astonishing. To the left, to the right, north or south the sky pulsated, fiery dots shot through the sky, auditioned, as if they had waited for our reflection, for our very being so that they might demonstrate their capabilities. I think, truly, they were playing with us.

On the shore, by a pit of orange embers, I pulled out my cell phone. One photograph of the shimmering Milky Way and I understood that the evening could not be captured this way. It could not be digitized, put under any unnatural process, reimagined elsewhere. It was only here--Midnight under the Milky Way--below this celestial canopy under which its myriad characters glint and transmute, on the Outer Cape, land of the surreal, that this beach, this sky, this ocean, this sand was real. Very real.