Andrea Witzke Slot

Apr 01, 2011 No Comments by Sea Stories

Hawks Nest, St. John, USVI

I.
The hills tongue their way to sea,
as if the sea begs the land to slide
into its waiting open mouth.
The slick blue mirror
is deceiving:
with my head beneath
its opaque walls,
I can see for miles.
Every flicker or fin
is a sunspot or rainbow
against such light.

II.
I sleep under the empty mast,
listening to the slim lines bang
against the still night.
From deep inside the intestines
of the Laughing Pelican II
I look upward and pretend
I am its heartbeat.
I know better.  It knows better.

III.
The curved white hand
catches the wind. Our
boat lifts forward, leaning
into the blue of merged sea and sky.
We concede to what we believe
to be the boat’s assured power.
The sea and wind know better.

“Hawks Nest” was first published in PENA International (N.R. 2, 2005).  It was later published (in translation) in a series of places, including NacionalFjala (The Word), and Illyria, as well as in the anthology Contemporary American Poetry (Poezia bashkekohore amerikane: antologji (published by the International Centre of Culture in Albania in 2006).

Lyonesse

Burial grounds heave
between nothing and the shore.
Wind deafens and land crashes into sky.
The landscape is as bleak and astonishing
as the back of your hand.

Cut deeper into sage and brush.
Dive into clouds that enshroud
neolithic tombs, feel dark tunnels
vibrate and weave beneath your feet.
Know that the voices converge
with nudges and handshakes.
They know,
belong, evade.

Move closer to edge.
Duck under the land’s end chain
that keeps the others out.
Reach through, beyond,
the slam of rain and wind
to where the city lies,
sunken and glowing,
amongst the death of ships.

Waves spit forth proof
of its existence, the sea
curls its many fingers.

You are as near as the
landscape will allow.
Flex bare hands at the thought.
Lyonnesse does not notice,
does not care, will not
rise to meet you
even if you fall.

The Nightlight

I see him drifting out to sea
in a small boat caught in the waves,
in the waves of wakefulness that pull,
that pull his boat farther,
that pull his boat farther from the shore.
He sits there, looking down at a book,
by a bedside lamp that shines like the moon,
a bedside lamp that sits beside a bed,
a bedside lamp that becomes the moon,
that sits beside him inside his rocking boat.

I call to him from a freightliner
that pulls through the deadliest storms
without the smallest sway of a bow.
I think I call to him.
Put down your book
, I say.
Pick up the oars,
I say.
He doesn’t hear.
I begin to yell, I’m sure I’m yelling.
Then jump ship
, I yell. Just swim over here.
A life vest is waiting!
No?
Then I will float near.
I will scoop you up.
just lift your hands to me,
just one small movement:
reach up here to me, flop on board,
smooth yourself on the shores of my liner.

He doesn’t look up.
My seas are too calm,
he seems to say,
but I will continue my watch.
Through the mist I will watch,
through my portholes I will watch.
I will watch portside, I will watch starboard,
I will watch you reading by a lamp,
a bedside lamp that looks like a globe,
a globe that looks like the moon,
a moon that hides its switch,
a moon that gives you permission,
neat and full consent,
to jump ship, to swim with the whales,
to swim to lands’ end itself,
where the world can be snapped off,
the ocean snapped shut, the waves
snuffed out. Just one pull of just one switch.

~~~~~~~~

Andrea Witzke Slot (also published under the name Andrea Witzke Leavey) is currently teaching at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is landlocked for too much of the year but enjoys nothing more than spending time with her family on the east coast of North Carolina and various other watery landscapes in the U.S. and abroad.  Her poetry, fiction, and book reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in Chiron Review, Houston Literary Review, Southern Women’s Review, The Pacific ReviewBorderlands: Texas Poetry ReviewTranslation ReviewThe Valdosta VoiceIllyriaPENA International, and Fjala, among other journals. In 2006, a series of her poems appeared in translation in the anthology Contemporary American Poetry/Poezia bashkekohore amerikane, published by the Albanian Ministry of Culture, and her scholarly work has been accepted for inclusion in a collection of essays on Julia Alvarez. She won UTD’s Excellence in the Arts Award for poems published in Illyria and PENA International in 2004 and was a finalist in the Sean Christopher Britton Memorial Poetry Prize in 2002. Her first poetry manuscript, To Find a New Beauty, the title of which is borrowed from a line of H.D.’s, explores the strange beauty of desire in the world and in relationships. She is currently working on a second poetry manuscript titled Lexiphilia and an academic book titled The Subject in Dialogue: Remapping Subjectivity and Social Thought through Dialogic Poetry.

Littoral Currents, Vernal 2011 Read more

Norbert Krapf

Mar 31, 2011 No Comments by Sea Stories

The Come Home from the Flood Telegram

Are you OK come home STOP
wrote the brother to his third
sister in the great Louisville flood
of January 1937 and she came.

Came back across the Ohio River
to the hill country and worked
as a secretary in a lumber company.
A few years later met the man

who became my father. They stayed
home until called into another world.
More than seventy years after the flood
waters receded, the yellow telegram

floats in a drawer of my desk.
After thirty-four years I came
home from New York. Nobody
sent me a telegram. Home called

in other ways. What if?  What if
she had not come back?  Had not
listened to the command that must
have come from her mother?

Is there not always a What if
whenever there is a flood?
Some heed the call and some
do not.  Some know home

as where you must go when they
call you back after your time
in the city.  Others know home
as the place you must get beyond,

where you shrivel and die if
you go back.  Some ride the waters
and settle wherever they recede
and say they never look back.

Some cut off all ties and face away.
Some go back and look within.
Some close off, some stay open
and ponder What if telegrams.

Basho’s Waters

No matter how far
he journeyed
into the interior

Basho always knew
where water was.

He listened to
frogs plunge into
the sound of water.

He watched the river
sweep a hot day
away into the sea.

* * *

He saw the camellia
pour rain water
when it leaned,

the windblown banana
tree pour rain drops
into a bucket.

* * *

He watched tides
slide in and foam
in autumn full moon.

Autumn rain made
mountains beyond
beautiful to the eye.

Hearing dew drops
drip, he wished
to wash the world.

He walked round
and round a pond
in harvest moon.

* * *

Moving, he cast
his shadow like
a divining rod

to find and tap
the ancient well
from which

he allowed
his readers
to drink deep.

Walt Whitman on the South Shore
for David Steinberg

When Walt Whitman stood as a boy
on the South Shore of the Island
on which he was born, he listened

to the midnight roar of the waves
crash onto the sand and ebb
back out toward the depths.

Between the crash and the ebb,
he heard the sad notes of a bird
lamenting its loss of a mate.

From the moment of this rebirth,
he knew his calling was to sing of loss
but also light, sadness but also joy.

He learned that when you accept
the call, there is no going back
to the boy you once were before

you took on your lifelong mission:
the pain and the tumult, yes, but also
the sweet taste of singing for all.

The Float Forever Held
for Vince Clemente

Friend, your words
come to me again
in a distinct rhythm

I recognize at once
as the pulse
of your spirit

stays with me
wherever you and I
go as we move on

into the next
phase of finding
where we settle

as time flows on
and we float
our words

and spirit
on the surface
of whatever waters

turn beneath
heaving us onward
toward the far shore.

Saying Patoka

Patoka, Patoka,
I say, not knowing

what the word means
but sure that it sums up

the spirits of those
who were here before

we came to their place.
Patoka, Patoka,

I say again,
wanting to conjure

water still so pure
I can step into it

and float in currents
in which spirit flows.

Moon of Falling Leaves

I am a canoe carved of tulip poplar.
It is the Moon of Falling Leaves,
and I float open on the White River
in the light of a moon that is full.

Into me fall leaves of many colors
and shapes and names that drift
together into the verses of a song
that many of this land shall sing.

These leaves of so many shapes
and hues make a rainbow of names
I ask you to sing with me as we
glide on moon-white currents

meandering toward larger waters.
Let us sing together the song
of our many different leaves
whose names make the music

of this place we love:
Miami, French, Lenape,
English, Potawatomi, Irish,
Scots, Piankashaw, German,

Hebrew, Wea, Welsh.
As I float around the bends
of this River called White,
I collect more and more falling

leaves and verse builds upon verse
in this song that shall never end:
Italian, Shawnee, African,
Latvian, Winnabago, Pole,

Slovakian, Wyandot, Chinese,
Japanese, Nanticoke, Lithuanian,
Greek, Mascouten, Asian Indian.
More leaves expand our song.

Into this poplar canoe floating
in full moonlight fall and settle
Korean, Munsee, and Belgian,
Hungarian, Kickapoo, Swiss,

more shapes and lines adding
colors, layers and texture:
Hungarian, Mexican, Vietnamese,
Colombian, Cherokee, Dutch.

Shine, Moon of Falling Leaves, shine.
Fall, multicolored leaves to come.
Flow, river, flow into deeper waters
as we sing the song we compose.

~~~~~~~~

Norbert Krapf, Indiana Poet Laureate 2008-2010, is the author of eight full-length poetry collections, including the recent Sweet Sister Moon and Invisible Presence, a collaboration with photographer Darryl Jones. He also released a poetry and jazz cd with pianist-composer Monika Herzig, Imagine – Indiana in Music and Words. Songs in Sepia and Black and White, 100 new poems with photos by Richard Fields, is forthcoming in 2012 from Indiana Univ. Press. For 34 years Norbert taught at Long Island University, where he directed the C.W. Post Poetry Center. As IPL, he had a mission of reuniting poetry and song.

http://www.krapfpoetry.com/

Littoral Currents, Vernal 2011 Read more

Bob Timmons

Mar 31, 2011 No Comments by Sea Stories

~~~~~~~~

Bob Timmons is an active individual who has placed himself in the shoes of animals to feel the pain and witness the actions against them. There are many senseless and destructive acts occurring in the oceans that need to be exposed. He has been using his talent of painting to tell the stories visually and educate people who are unaware.

Passion is what art is all about and Bob’s art has not only changed his life and direction but it has helped change the lives of many individuals and animals. The paintbrush has become Bob’s weapon in the fight to change what is wrong and expose the truth to all. Human interactions directly and/or indirectly are stressing the growth of the inhabitants of the ocean. It has made Bob look at all the creatures within the ocean as endangered since the ocean itself is endangered. His aim is to empower minds to make choices for the next seven generations that will force positive impacts and hopefully reverse this process.

Scientists have stated the oceans are going to die by 2048 if we continue on the path we have created. The oceans are exposing symptoms of being sick by the results of over-fishing, acidification, coral reef decline, debris, and over 400 dead zones that keep spreading. This is affecting all living life on the planet and can easily be reversed by every individual taking responsibility for his or her actions.

http://www.bobtimmons.org/

Coastal Zone, Vernal 2011 Read more

Derek Tarr

Mar 31, 2011 No Comments by Sea Stories

~~~~~~~~

Derek Tarr is an underwater photographer whose award-winning fine art prints have captured the attention of collectors with their vivid color and focus on aesthetic patterns that can only be found in the ocean.

Growing up in Southern California, Derek has always been close to water. As a child, scenes from “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau” and the James Bond film “For Your Eyes Only” were among his early inspirations to venture away from the swimming pool and in to the ocean. He learned to scuba dive in the summer of 1985 on Catalina Island, and has since spent much of his life under water, diving off the coast of California and in the clear waters of exotic destinations around the world including the Maldives, Fiji, Grand Cayman, Egypt, Hawai’i, and the Solomon Islands.
His goal is to bring the world’s most captivating underwater photographs to shore, and inspire future generations to see the beauty and value of the world underwater. For most people, the ocean is out of sight and out of mind, but through his photography Derek promises to deliver images that will raise our consciousness of the ocean’s wonders.

Coastal Zone, Vernal 2011 Read more

Marie Shell

Mar 31, 2011 No Comments by Sea Stories

~~~~~~~~

Born, and raised in Atlanta, GA, in love with color with her first box of Crayolo’s, she was sent to the Atlanta High Museum of Art at age 16.  After marrying Sanford Forrest Shell, they moved to Jacksonville, Fl. In 1973 and art study was continued at Florida Community College, South Campus. Also at the same time, Crealde School of Art in Winter Park, Fl.

Marie is an experimental artist, in love with color and texture.  She works in many mediums: w.c. acrylic, collage, and oil.  Marie also loves watercolor because of its unpredictable happenings.

She has been musically trained, and taught piano for 13 years, loves listening to Jazz while painting. Helps take care of Roses, Camelias, Day lilies, Gardenias, Hydrangeas, Azaleas & orchids, whose images are used very often in paintings. Marie’s work has been chosen for publication in eight art books. Her Studio Gallery overlooks the St. Johns River, which brings more inspiration.

http://www.marieshell.com

Coastal Zone, Vernal 2011 Read more

Eloise Grills

Mar 31, 2011 No Comments by Sea Stories

Waterlocked

My feet barely disturb the waterlogged and cold sand, floating in it like in an ether dream.

In the darkness the sea seems louder, the roar no longer displaced by the slack jaw of aesthetic awe.

My night vision is flattened, the portion of the beach I can see in the bleak fluorescence of the street lights is grey, as though the black mass of the sea has sucked the colour out like nectar. One breath in and I am up to my ankles, I look down, my winter coat trailing in the water.

I am one of millions of honey ants displaced from the heaving stomach of the hill, from that red centre. Now the sea threatens to suck me back out. To desiccate me.

I think, would it really matter if one of us, one of these million ants, stopped working, stopped carrying, lay down and rolled, rolled right off the edge?

It is a Sunday night. I am aware of this, as I was aware of myself heading home on the last train. The air sick, sweet; perfumed by warm bodies who converse too loud and too harsh into deaf ears for the confines of the space. I had let my rightful station pass, and the lights of suburbia fade as the right window became a dark square of open water. I was drawn here.

The sleighbells of the level crossing and I am dully aware of my blind toes in the sand.

Think- I could follow some phantom current out to sea, never be seen again. To throw oneself in a perfect arc and skip across the surface like a desert rock. You erode until you disappear.

Vanish in the gurgle of the ripples.

Across the bay, I think of the small town where my holiday house sits. But it is not mine. It is my Grandmother’s. A series of corrections, that grow more and more innocuous. The renegotiation of the line between the sand and the water. They say the mind erodes much like that. In waves.

The beach house. St Leonards.

I think of that road to the beach, the one that flattens around you. Through the grassy plains spread thin to the toasted edge of the horizon with the relentless butterknife of European settlers long dead. I have followed this white-bread finger through the years, as a child and then a feral teen, now my mind returns there. You pass the Cheetham salt farms, expanses of twinkling water which reflect the empty sky, as the vacant eyes of their siren symbol wink through the car windows, her lonely song silenced by the roaring of the asphalt against the tires.

The town sits like a stuffed hobby horse which has long since bucked its riders. The empty fish and chip shop, the newsagent, the ice creamery rise out of the green like the earth’s inessential limbs, they will eventually crumble, I think, be still, no longer wound by human hands.

The caravan park is a deserted carnival ground, the lonely power sockets sticking out of the ground waiting to be surged with too many comforts of home.

I think of the pier, and of the squid ink tags upon it. The black marks are soaked defiantly into cement, betraying a muffled violence like a scream just cut short by a hand. Each squid his own personal Pollock, smashing himself like a fly into canvas, like a Brackhage moth into film. Martyrs in their art. Fishermen here wear comic parkas too large that marshmallow at the shoulder; they are curled and hunched and dried like dead teatrees gnarled against the breeze. Their fingernails eclipsed crescent moons of dirt, or fish guts. Probably both.

Wrapped in black vestments, suddenly I think of the jetty at the New South Wales town of Tathra where a father and two boys drowned after leaping in after a pram. We used to holiday there when I was younger.  The town’s other crowning achievement is the capture of the largest shark ever from a pier. That and the crab races, and the mechanical whale, Winky, who performs in the window each night. The Big Crab. The White Whale. The Big Shark. The drowning seems small beneath these, beneath the pier- I once swum under it, saw the sparkling eyes of the fish hooks hanging off it. I think of dark water, dark purple, the capsized pram in silhouette, the mouths of sharks all white below.

All around the perimeter of this island, I think, fishermen stand in silent vigil mourning the drowned. Their baited hooks drift out, again and again, coming back empty or piercing a gasping fish.

There are the lighthouses with their spotlights bleating, a feeble mother’s cry, over and over again, calling the names of lost boys, calling Our John, our Harry, Our Ernie, calling them back to rooms, back to their homes for tea. The border patrol boats standing at the ready with crisp blankets for the victims gone stiff with the salt air.

I turn away from the beach. I imagine myself…

Back in St. Leonards. Up the rolling-hill in leaps and bounds and you find yourself at the lookout point, and you appreciate the view like an adult. There on the horizon the otherworldly lights form the now familiar Melbourne  skyline, you look down deeply at the red cliffs and see them retreating with erosion, the water’s depth and colour you’ve learned are determined by the tide. You become aware of the shapes that rise out of the plaque overlooking the sea, familiar in a half-memory, in child eyes. They rise up as words now, their meaning becomes apparent as you notice the flowers; they catch the bottom corner of the eye, the petals dissolving into the brown water in cheap jars licked clean of marmalade. The embossed names cast shadows on the bird shit, they make spectres of the two boys; you become aware of the two boys: descending the rolling-hill in leaps and bounds. In some buried day, the boys and I, racing, racing down the hill, we are the Famous Five, lemonade and lashings of tongue, oh yum, the smugglers somewhere beneath the cliffs. Dick, Fanny, me, you, there is nothing to stop up as the day stretches on and on and on until dark, ’til we have to be home for tea.

I am up to my ankles, wading, wading. I follow the boys, cajoling each other, running at breakneck speed into the water, in up to their girlish waits, then the giggling and then the thrashing about, pretend-drowning one another, then one or the other gets sore about it and without realizing they get deeper and deeper, and mother said never to swim out of your depth but disobedience and danger are indistinct entities, like the cold grey skin of the boys and the foam of waves that didn’t look so rough from the sand, they drift further, as their lungs fill, one dunking the other again and again, and then the older one realizes he has gone too far, and the pretend has gotten real, and his feet cannot touch the sand and the other writhes underneath and one tries to save the other but in nature’s cruel irony the instinct is to drown the savior, and then finally lungs are drained of breath which is replaced with saltwater and the undertow is the undertaker and the seagulls sing last rites.

It’s all very well-dressed in a hand-painted aquamarine tint of a black and white negative, a depression era painting, the romance of the drowning. The disappearance and the mystery allow for uncertainty. Better that than the creeping car, and the open door and the eager eyes offering sweets which of course turn sour in the long-run when they try to run and the boys all wrapped up in bonbon papers and deposited in the ground. Better that than the careful measurements and the building of two child caskets. No, the sea has mystery and suspense. The boys dissolve like disprin there.  Right as rain.

Here I stand, wet, like someone waiting for the whales, waiting for the boys to breach a second, fall back down. To discover something new and fresh at the edge of the abyss. I am not alone.

I think I can see the silhouette of Harold Holt in the dim light, I am sure of it. In up to his ankles, wading this, every shore. Imagine him; shedding his arms like wisdom teeth. Ribs open like clams to slit the skins surface, reforming gills. He follows a tremor; muscle memory of water pounds through buried river veins. He is an inland rock, red. The wrinkles in his dry skin inverted rivulets, recalling- the inscribed urge to skip and skip across the surface until… he disappears. Dissolves in the wall of spray. His mouth a plughole bursts open.  His cry fades into sea foam, forms whale song. Made invisible- he escapes through the smoke screen, he is distilled vital particles- Evaporated elsewhere. The frontal lobe swells, breaks its banks, the stream soothes eons of evolutionary ache. The flood diverges into a salt lake. His synapses, a submerged circuit board, flash, flash, surge, surge in cacophony for a second before they die. Lighthouses swallowed by the tide. He fills and fills and fills, finally equalising the external pressure of living on his skin. And now, waterlogged, Our Harold Holt can sink. The Australian dream. A baked body sleepwalking into water.

Down to the sea floor, an abandoned carnival ground, littered with picked bones, melted soft serve bodies. The inverse sun of lava blazes like hell through the fissures, through the cracks.

We are not desert rocks, I think we are tectonic plates, moving back to sea. There is nothing new there, nothing for sore old eyes. The anthill of home not in the heart of this island but somewhere miles away, past the breakers, buried, out to sea.

A mother’s voice, whale song, calling us out. Drowned by the roar.

But now it is too late in the day, and we have to be getting back home for supper.

Being land bound for so long has made me old. My sea legs no longer wobble, now they shiver, the feeling of a child’s exhilaration replaced with the coldness of bones when the waves come in.

And they are coming in, as I feel the rocks tug at my toes- the dead, shed fingernails of Virginia Woolf.

My own fingers find my pockets and I turn back from the water.

No.

I cannot dress up the boys in aquamarine.

The sea howls now in an alien tongue that erases language in its path. I cannot see it, in the darkness, but the force of noise pushes me back.

I am numb, I am dumb.

I am going blind.

The darkness-

There is nothing in the Australian imaginary that can be stitched to this, no sun that can penetrate and bleach the bones, no wattle that can perfume, no poetry that can pretty the waterlogged corpses of the drowned.

The blind cannot paint romance onto the suck of a spitting sea.

I could trace the perimeter of the continent, ask the guardians, the fishermen the why of if all. I can see their faces now, staring back, with empty squid-ink eyes, deep black mouths like whale spouts. Ugly and without art.

They never knew any answer except the roar.

I know now. I now know.

The only more terrifying than the sirens is their silence.

The fishermen will pull me back with their hooks if I should try to escape.

And, I…

I will remain stranded on this island, in the same place where I began.

With my numb feet dumbly feeling the edge of an uncanny sea; with the tide always coming, coming always-

Always closing in.

~~~~~~~~

Eloise Grills lives in Melbourne, Australia. She is currently completing her Honours thesis in the department of English at the University of Melbourne.

Overfalls, Vernal 2011 Read more

Jean-Marie J. Crocker

Mar 31, 2011 No Comments by Sea Stories

Nahant Remembered

Rimming the lawn where I ran in the sunlight of my childhood summers was the ocean, sparkling, murmuring, tossing its foam as it crashed against the rocks below.  I was at my grandparents’ summer home in Nahant, Massachusetts, my kingdom, the site of the idyll that formed my first sense of place.

Jutting into the Atlantic Ocean some fourteen miles northeast of Boston, the larger part of the rocky peninsula, known as “Big Nahant,” has long been famous for its spectacular views and magnificent estates.  However, it was the smaller knob of the peninsula, the simple, sun washed village of “Little Nahant” that formed my early and lasting love of the sea and its surrounding shore.

Each summer, while my father’s business kept him in the hot Midwest, he sent my mother and me back East to escape the heat.  As we drove away from the hiss and steam of the Pullman trains in Boston’s South Station and settled into the comfort of my grandparents’ Packard sedan, I peered out the car window with anticipation while we headed to the North Shore.  The ride seemed long, past industrial Chelsea and Everett, the marshes of Revere and Saugus, and eventually through the city of Lynn.   There at the outskirts a narrow, two mile neck, bordered by beach and ocean on one side and Lynn Harbor on the other, connected the mainland to Nahant, our long awaited destination.   Through the rolled down car windows came our first tangy whiff of the prevailing East wind.

The first turn off the neck led up a hill past closely set, two-family summer cottages, then curved around the highest point with its wide flung view of the ocean before continuing downhill on Little Nahant Road to the larger homes and lots that bordered Nahant Bay.

At 191, behind the white painted gate and high bridal wreath hedges, stood my maternal grandparents’ home, a gray, shingled house with cream trim and green shutters, its windows and welcoming porches open to the sea breeze.  Here each day’s routine proceeded as certainly and gradually as the turning of the tide.  Slowly the sea withdrew, exposing the rocks festooned with sea weed; slowly it returned, filling natural pools and coves.

From the dormer window in my small nursery I could look across the lawn and gardens, along the continuing rocky shore and sea wall, to the beach that joined Big Nahant and to the white Coast Guard Station with its lookout tower and big gray row boats; always ready to rescue someone, the adults explained.  That shadow of unknown danger gave me a little shiver of awe, as did the moan of the fog horn on days when mist rolled in to enclose us.    However, those were brief, passing clouds in my sunny existence and I accepted the power of the sea long before I understood it.

On the wide, glassed-in sun porch that faced the bay, I invariably found “Garmie,” my youthful grandmother with her titian blonde hair and her cigarettes, seated in one of the gray wicker chairs, keeping an alert vigil with her binoculars. She watched the local fishing dories set forth, stared out beyond the island of Egg Rock, once the site of a light house that guided schooners away from treacherous rocks.   On the distant horizon an occasional large ship slid past; perhaps an ocean liner heading to Europe, she told me, and I began to dream of travel to romantic places.

While I stood at her side watching the sun-spangled ocean, Garmie drew me within the circle of her arm.

“Those are sunbeams dancing on the water,” she said.  I became .permanently enchanted by the image.

For my mother and me the days centered on our outings to nearby Short Beach.

My royal blue wool Jantzen bathing suit, which covered my chest modestly, had a white webbed belt with a silvery metal buckle that I liked to click into place.  A multicolored soft straw hat shaded my face from the sun and white rubber swim shoes protected my feet.  Reaching up to hold my mother’s hand, I walked past the summer houses ornamented with shutters and striped awnings, through a field of tall yellow buttercups, then along the boardwalk at the base of the sea wall.  Through the cracks in the gray, weathered walk I could see masses of gold and brown sea weed left by the receding tide and I wrinkled my nose at the pungent smell.

Between the warm rubble of smooth rocks at the top of the beach and the ridged sand darkened by the lap of the waves, my mother would find an uncrowded space among the scattered groups of beach goers where she spread our blanket and belongings on the soft dry sand.   Soon I would move to the expanse of damp, hard packed sand nearer to the ocean and with my shiny red pail, matching shovel, and fluted molds become totally absorbed in digging, lifting, and carrying sand and water to build cakes and castles.  Whether looking along the length of the beach dotted with umbrellas and chairs, or staring out to the wide horizon, I felt myself contentedly alone, part of a limitless world of blue ocean and sky.  It was a marvelous freedom from the strictures of childhood discipline and obedience.

On days when the tide brought in calm water warmed by the sand I settled in at water’s edge, enjoying the small ripples that slid over me, feeling the push of the salt water lift my legs slightly, turning onto my stomach and pretending to swim.  I had begun to realize that going to the beach meant more than merely playing.  It also meant learning to swim.  I watched the adults, including my energetic girlish mother, pull on their bathing caps, plunge into the rolling waves and come back to stand dripping and sniffling, toweling and shaking out their hair, exclaiming how invigorating it was.  I watched them with puzzled curiosity and returned to my sand projects.

However, my mother, an expert swimmer, was eager for me to learn what she considered a basic skill.  She would come to me with a pair of grayish canvas water wings, a device meant to give confidence to the most reluctant beginner.  Having blown into them until the two ovals were firmly inflated, she would coax me to go with her into water perhaps up to my waist, then place the connecting band across my chest so that a wing extended on either side.  Smiling optimistically, she would persuade me to lie on my stomach and feel the buoyancy of the water while she held the back of my suit. Craning my neck above the lap of the waves, I bobbed along cooperatively with her at my side.

“You can’t sink in salt water,” she assured me.

Yet whenever she convinced me to try paddling without her reassuring hold or the support of the water wings, I would stiffen and indeed sink like a stone, further insulted by the splash of salty water in my nose, mouth, and eyes.

These tentative encounters challenged severely my wish to swim.  I would rather walk along the beach looking for the spiraled shells of periwinkles, the pearly lined blue shells of mussels, oddly shaped stones, or bits of glass, blue, amber, and green, ground and shaped by the sea.

When I did finally learn to swim it was in the natural, rock walled pool below my grandmother’s house.  At the lower edge of the lawn the boundary of the sea wall dropped precipitously some thirty feet to a jumble of rocks, then extended further into massive shelvings of tan, gray, and rose colored rock that jutted into the ocean.  Long forbidden to even approach the lower edge of the lawn, at the age of eight I was permitted to join Garmie as she maneuvered nimbly over the rocks with her fishing gear.

She had tamed the rocks for descent with occasional flat steps of cement

that eased the path to and from the water.  With typical zest and imagination she had a wide natural curve in the rocks below enlarged and smoothed with more cement, creating a sheltered pool for friends and family to enjoy.  There under her guidance on a sunny afternoon I finally realized the combination of surrender and control that constitutes the act of swimming.  Imitating her simple breast stroke and frog kick, I moved through the water for a couple of yards.  I was triumphant.

From that time on it was part of growing up to swim a little further each time, to march out uncomplainingly beyond the occasional influx of clinging brown sea weed at the beach in order to reach the deep, clearer water, to plunge into 62 degree water and assure less hardy summer visitors that it was not even cold.  This was pride, an integral trait, I think, among those who grow up by the ocean, even those for whom the shore is simply recreation.

Soon I was learning the crawl and the back stroke, diving into the surf, floating on my back while the waves rocked me gently and I watched the clouds move across the summer sky.  Now I was not just an observer.  I could feel myself a creature of the sea, comfortable in the embrace of silken water, supported and swayed by its buoyancy.

By my teens the implications of the beach-going rite changed, as I left the guarding eyes of my parents and went in the company of friends.  That early immersion in weather, water, and space bred a certain confidence in our physical selves, a delicious vanity over the glow of our suntans and our figures, trim enough in tight wool or satiny swim suits to survive the stares of less ambitious sunbathers when we walked up the beach.  With eyes alternately shy or coy we watched the groups of exuberant young men on the beach, and the free pleasure of swimming palled in comparison with the   exhilaration of those first slight flirtations.

After a swim I stretched my towel across the sand and lay on my stomach, lulled by the heat of the sun and the pulse of the sea.  Cradling my face against the curve of my arm, I could smell the warmth of my skin brightened by the lingering traces of salt.

As a young bride I followed my husband inland to the enclosed spaces of upstate New York, western Massachusetts, and central Maine.  Eagerly we returned each summer to the North Shore for family visits in the setting where we both had grown up.  The house at Little Nahant had been sold, but my in-laws’ home was within sound and smell of the ocean.  With renewed pleasure we explored the beach and tide pools with our children, breathed in the salt air, and were refreshed again by the everlasting power of the sea.

Now I am old, fated to live happily inland, but still I wait eagerly for my yearly return to the shore.  I walk along a seemingly endless stretch of beach, inhaling the fresh sea air.  Cormorants labor across the sky, gulls swoop low, sandpipers etch the sand at water’s edge.  I gaze out at the cobalt sea, to the clear line of the horizon with its invitation to the unknown.

Some nights the soft splash of the waves at low tide lulls me to sleep.  On nights of high tide I listen to the rush of the sea as it withdraws over the rubble of rocks beneath my window.

I wake to a calm morning. The ocean is smooth, its shallow waves unfurling in narrow bands of white foam.  Sunlight spangles the surface.  Once again I am at Little Nahant, watching the sunbeams dance on the water.

~~~~~~~~

Jean-Marie J. Crocker’s poetry and essays have appeared in numerous literary publications, including Off the Coast, Blueline, The North Atlantic Review, The Aurorean, and The Hartford Courant.  Having lived on the North Shore of Boston for the first twenty three years of her life, Jean Marie attributes her appreciation of the environment to her early familiarity with the sea and its surroundings.  A graduate of Simmons College, Jean Marie lives in Wilton, New York with her husband.

Adrift, Vernal 2011 Read more

W.F. Lantry

Mar 29, 2011 1 Comment by Sea Stories

Seascape

“of heaven or hell I have no power to sing”
~W. Morris

There’s sweetness in this salt. These small tidepools
along Point Loma’s western edge, will bear
examination in an hour’s tide:
torn bits of kelp, anemones, a few
small fishes nibbling on my fingertips
or hiding in the shadows from my form:

I have no words to honor them- sandstone,
cut by Pacific storms, or hollowed through
groundswells returning to the shore, is changed
but unchanged are the flights of migrant birds
riding the restless chaos of those storms
beyond the echoed calls of waveworn stone

their shadows falling on my distant face
and I, a visitor again, rename
myself as one who almost knew this place
before the tide closed in, before the storm
drowned out my words, or gave me a new song
to harmonize the chorus of these waves.

Gacela of the Heron’s Dream

Calling across the breakers as the dawn
illuminates the curvatures of earth
which mimic long ellipses of her wings
and those short crescents of her early flights,

her voice is drowned by waves sweeping along
our tidal flats whose broken horseshoe crabs
reflect in polished surfaces the white
remnants of all the drowned, her mourning cry

laments each loss, and yet the surface, clear
before the wind comes up, barely reflects
the blazing sky, and hides what burns beneath
groundswells and currents barring her, she wades

along the line between the earth and sky,
between the earth and water, messenger
across all three domains, her lonely voice
drowned by the intersections she invokes.

Chincoteague
It’s been so long I don’t remember how
to even hold the paddle, and this hull
seems less than stable underfoot. I slide
the frame into the waves and clamber in.
How quickly this wind takes me! Turns me west
and pushes me away from shore. A few

long strokes and I get turned around. The bay
begins to glide beneath me at my will
and I return to take on passengers.
Life-jacketted they stagger on, and we
negotiate a rhythm as she steers
and I supply the strength with James between

the two of us, exclaiming every sight,
we head into the marsh. The trees recede
replaced by sedge and ribbon grass. A few
small horses graze these islands as she guides
the bow along an inlet. Quietly
we feather oars along the water’s edge

almost within arm’s reach. Blue herons stand
against the distant thunderheads. Small waves
reverberate beneath us, dragonflies
seem motionless against the painted manes
and close enough to hear the horses breath
we drift through stillness toward the afternoon.

“Chincoteague” first appeared in print in Reach Poetry Magazine (UK)

St. Thomas
Tide pools. Sunlight. Shorebirds overhead.
Young James constructing at the waterline
his narrative of voyaging across
this azure to those islands we can see
only at dawn and dusk: the tradewinds draw
curtains of salt across our eyes at noon.

I stand with three iguanas on a rise
among plumerias whose petals move
from white to rose to crimson when they fall
and line volcanic landscapes in long drifts
their contrast sheer against the breakers white
transversal of our broken coral reef

the clarity of sapphire renews
itself after each swell and circulates
in guided currents unknown butterflies
and predatory angels scattering
those nets of luminescent fins. I walk
down to the sands just as she rises up

and we walk out together on the rocks
as James watches, his thoughts of voyage lost
until the urchins spear her foot. She leaps
into my arms, and I still have the strength
to bear her back to shore, as seabirds weave
their shadows on the unrelenting shore.

Relics

“the sea lifts, also, reliquary hands.”
~Crane

He means, of course, the sea where I once stood
waiting, on the curved shore, for her light
tall on the cliff above me, to go out
which told, as signal, of descending feet,
but, blazing all night, in the southern wind
her lantern mirrored my desire. I thought

towards midnight, of another fire I’d built
close, on a distant shore, to the wave’s edge
as inverse messenger, a beacon, warm
in March, when wind blazed through exhausted wood
but no feet crossed the ribbed sea sand that night
nor any evening afterwards. These lights

are reliquary to me, but confused
in memory with torches on a sea
I’ve never known, but may my voyages
across those winds at evening leave me blind
to misread signals, and may her intent
encourage my confusion of these shores.

Bel

“While ribboned water lanes I wind
are laved and scattered with no stroke…”
~Crane

… and hers, this luminescence, mentioned, still
elusive as those particles of light
remembered from the night she moved her hand
within the waveless sea, and the old moon
seemed almost in her arms, between us, or
reflected within other, distant winds

to me, a silence, known before this night
imperfectly, or not at all, her words
seemed present, even while this surface held
reflections broken by these winter limbs
and constellations changing as this earth
moved with her towards some other, unknown end

for while her hand configured common tides
her whispered voice was singing- if I heard
just half the song as near concentric waves,
as echoes of a nearly perfect moon
descending to a landlocked sea, can you
or she forgive the harmonies I made?

~~~~~~~~

W.F. Lantry received his Licence and Maîtrise from L’Université de Nice, M.A. from Boston University and Ph.D. in Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Houston. He is the recipient of the Paris/Atlantic Young Writers Award, and in 2010 won the Lindberg Foundation International Poetry for Peace Prize (in Israel), the Crucible Poetry Prize and the CutBank Patricia Goedicke Prize in Poetry. His work has appeared in The Wallace Stevens Journal, Prairie Fire, Asian Cha, Literal Latté, Blip Magazine (formerly Mississippi Review Online), Gulf Coast and Aesthetica. His chapbook, The Language of Birds, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. He currently works in Washington, DC and is a contributing editor of Umbrella: A Journal of Poetry and Kindred Prose.

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Erin Ganaway

Mar 29, 2011 No Comments by Sea Stories

Avola, Cape Cod›

Thirteen generations up our lineage a teenaged
Hopkins tossed about on a Mayflower voyage—
Constance, as if foreshadowing, derives from
the word constant: invariable, regularly recurrent,

continuing without pause, steadfast, faithful.
Constant, an odd word for a place so variable
in geography, but even in its coastal shape-
shifting this Cape remains steadfast and faithful.

Standing on a spit of beach facing west, the
high Atlantic tide feeding at the flesh of
my heels, I look not to the ocean but to our
gray-shingled saltbox cottage. Her nametag,

an artisan hewn quarter board with painted
black background and letters gilded in
fourteen karat. Backwards it reads: Alova
or A lover, without the southern drawl.

This house, my unrequited love, open only
for summer visitation, was built by the briny
hands of a great, great uncle. A sea scavenger,
he wheel-barrowed the remains of a barn,

tacked it together with a shipwreck’s leftovers,
his labor documented by a black and white
photograph, yellowing with age, handed
down through our family like a keepsake quilt.

This house, mothering us with cedar-splinter
kisses, groaning under her protective weight
in a nor’easter, the gale winds spinning
directionless through a tarnished weather vane,

a house true to her namesake, hefty as a silk-
bearing ship, lifting her skirt to the errant waves,
holding fast to an ebbing shore, rigged firm by
wraiths, captained by unwinking heritage keepers.

In a Chart Room

A mug of rum clacks
on a mahogany desk,

a sou’wester drips clean
on a canted chair.

After he takes a sight
with the sextant,

he thumbs through
reams of tattered charts

in a oil lit room. Beneath
tacked jibs and a full mainsail

it is high noon on a
latitudinal track toward the

Ivory Coast, where
elephants sleep,

Madagascar, where
trees flaunt their

bottom sides, the
Seychelles, where

the hull rips through
seaward currents,

no match for the brawny
rigging of a Barque.

Maybe sailors will let
their salt-soured

toes meet the sun-
warmed sand, but in this

paradisio the crew are
sonorous and soporific

in their litanies
of cold-wrung home.

The Sirens Still Call

We live in a summerhouse of ghosts where eternity preserves footfalls imprinted in the flats between sea and dunes.  Waves race like Lipizzans to shore, and those not so massive mounds of sand, ocean’s weary gatekeepers, slump and sleep through days and nights, yes, those inky nights when the round face of a Moroccan dancer shimmies high in the sky, coyly slipping in and out of silk veils.  And the woman in the moon seems to know something we do not, eyes bright and satisfied, as a path forms before her like floating marigold petals, shimmering, rippling, inviting our steps to defy gravity, to follow those ancient prints off the shore, trailing after them into the blue-black where others went because they, too, were not tethered when the Sirens called.

~~~~~~~~

Erin Ganaway holds a Master of Fine Arts from Hollins University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Ad Hominem Art and Literature Review, Leaf Garden Press, and the New York Quarterly. Erin is the founder and director of In Medias Res, a tutoring venture that offers a boutique approach to teaching children and young adults the art of writing. She currently divides her time between Atlanta and Cape Cod.

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Josh Keyes

Mar 29, 2011 No Comments by Sea Stories
  1. Totem II, acrylic on wood panel, 24”x18”, 2008
  2. Totem IV, acrylic on wood panel, 40”x30”, 2008
  3. Rising, acrylic on wood panel, 18”x24”, 2008
  4. Thunder, acrylic on canvas, 40”x30”, 2008
  5. Goliath, acrylic on wood panel, 18”x24”, 2007
  6. Overflow, acrylic on wood panel, 36”x48”, 2007
  7. Sleeping V, acrylic on wood panel, 24”x18”, 2008
  8. Drifting, acrylic on panel, 30”x40”, 2009

~~~~~~~~

Josh Keyes was born in Tacoma, Washington. He received a BFA in 1992 from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and an MFA in 1998 from Yale University. Keyes currently lives and works in Portland Oregon.

Josh Keyes’ style is reminiscent of the diagrammatic vocabulary found in scientific textbook illustrations that often express through a detached and clinical viewpoint an empirical representation of the natural world. Assembled into this virtual stage set are references to contemporary events along with images and themes from his personal mythology. Josh Keyes’ work is a hybrid of eco-surrealism and dystopian folktales that express a concern for our time and the Earth’s future.

http://www.joshkeyes.net/

Coastal Zone, Vernal 2011 Read more