Monday, February 16, 2009


Some Seaside Poems

"Turtle's Skull"

The shore rang under my heel
After the squall:  delicate eyelids
Of shell, the scattered audacities
Limestone confects:  those peach-stung
Volutes of supersession, cowrie
And turkey wing, the murex with its
Acrid spirals and the bony rose
Of the lion's paw.  Vacancies, all
Vivid!  Where conch gongs trumpeted
Afternoons of disenchantment,
Poinciana-hosannas of departure,

I set the bare-scoured skull
Of the loggerhead seaward
And at daybreak, when the iron
Ladle of the eastern sky oozed its
Apricot-bold fissures of day,
Scathing water poured
From the eyes of the skull.
Black sockets wept the sea.

-- Eric Ormsby

* * *

"North Shore, PEI"

Who knows?  Perhaps they walk the beaches in their long-belted dresses,
the Island woman of long ago.
Possibly, we will see them, in a lucent spell of light, tidal pacing leisurely,
an assemblage through the surf.
Their hair come loose from its combs -- though it's whipped by the wind -- is left unattended 
as they perambulate the coast.
They're absorbed in telling over lives lived inland past the dunes.
Doubtless, it's of the fields that they're speaking
or a cairn that stood there once.
And the men whose fieldwork's finished
sleep on:  solaced by the sea-sounding speech of women naming men.
It's not for the living
they slow-step through the swell with their heads bent together
and their skirts stiff with salt.
Every birth begins a story and the story as they tell it defies the tumbled silence of stone.

If we saw, could we hear, in the interval of the wave, what ghost tells to ghost
so coolly now passion's past.

What they know must be as limitless as the sea (vocal)
that rolls to Europe
off the Island's North Shore.

--Anne Compton

* * *

"Beach Glass"

While you walk the water's edge,
turning over concepts
I can't envision, the honking buoy
serves notice that at any time
the wind may change,
the reef-bell clatters
its treble monotone, deaf as Cassandra
to any note but warning.  The ocean,
cumbered by no business more urgent
than keeping open old accounts
that never balanced,
goes on shuffling its millenniums
of quartz, granite, and basalt.
It behaves
toward the permutations of novelty --
driftwood and shipwreck, last night's
beer cans, spilt oil, the coughed-up
residue of plastic -- with random
impartiality, playing catch or tag
or touch-last like a terrier,
turning the same thing over and over,
over and over.  For the ocean, nothing
is beneath consideration.
The houses
of so many mussels and periwinkles
have been abandoned here, it's hopeless
to know which to salvage.  Instead
I keep a lookout for beach glass --
amber of Budweiser, chrysoprase
of Almaden and Gallo, lapis
by way of (no getting around it,
I'm afraid) Phillips'
Milk of Magnesia, with now and then a rare
translucent turquoise or blurred amethyst
of no known origin.
The process
goes on forever:  they came from sand,
they go back to gravel,
along with the treasuries 
of Murano, the buttressed
astonishments of Chartres,
which even now are readying
for being turn over and over as gravely
and gradually as an intellect
engaged in the hazardous
redefinition of structures
no one has yet looked at.

-- Amy Clampitt

* * *

"In England:
I:  Brighton Rock"
for Diana and Alan Myers

And so you are returning, livid flush of early dusk.  The chalk
Sussex rocks fling seaward the smell of dry grass and
a long shadow, like some black useless thing.  the rippling
sea hurls landward the roar of the incoming surge and
scraps of ultramarine.  From the coupling of the splash of
needless water and needless dark arise, sharply
etched against the sky, spires of churches, the color
of landed fish; and I revive.  In the bushes, a careless
linnet cries.  The horizon's clean-cut clothesline
has a single cloud pegged out upon it, like a shirt,
and a tanker's masts dip and sway, like an ant
fallen over on its back.  Into my mind floats someone's
phone number -- the ripped-out mesh
of an empty trawl.  A breeze fans my cheek.
The sea swell lulls an anxious splinter,
and a motionless boat lies awash in its reflection.
In the middle of a long or at the end of a short
life, one goes down to the waves not to bathe but for the sake
of that dark-gray, unpeopled, inhuman surface,
as like in color to the eyes, gazing unwinking at it,
as two drops of water.  Like silence at a parrot.

-- Joseph Brodsky
translated from the Russian by Alan Myers

* * *

"Swimming By Night"

A light going out in the forehead
Of the house of the ocean,
Into warm black its feints of diamond fade.
Without clothes, without caution

Plunging past gravity --
Wait!  Where before
Had been floating nothing, is a gradual body
Half remembered, astral with phosphor,

Yours, risen from its tomb
In your own mind,
Haunting nimbleness, glimmerings a random
Spell had kindled.  So that, new-limned

By this weak lamp
The evening's alcohol will feed
Until the genie chilling bids you limp
Heavily over stones to bed,

You wear your master's robe
One last time, the far break
Of waves, their length and sparkle, the spinning globe
You wear, and the star running won his cheek.

--James Merrill

* * *

"The Seashore House"

The sound of waves
comes creeping through the house
to stroke the sullen waters
of the garden, and my body,
like a stone, beside the garden,
begging, begging to be left untouched,
because she's bruising me:
may all her slow attempts
at getting close to me
fly off into the sound of waves
like birds with rock-grey wings!
I lie as still as someone
balancing a bowl of fruit
or rabbits on their head.

Beside the pond my dog
is gnawing bones
that crawl with ants,
and every now and then he stops
to rub his lips and nose
along the grass
that closes over him.
This afternoon aches
like a bell,
the sea is slow,
and if you come and look for me
beside the pool of melted water
you will find a stone
as cold and passionless as silk.

Silk is the liquid stone
my mother wore,
I see it slipping, slipping, like a skin;
I wear a scarf myself sometimes, I know,
to hide the scar
my mother made
I do not want to show:
my mother is afraid of love
and I, her silver-skinned
burnt only daughter --
tissue-head, peculiar, queen of pain --
I cry for kisses like she cries for shame.
The sound of waves
comes creeping through the house.

-- Selima Hill

* * *

"How to Write the Poem of the Pebble"
(for kamau e. brathwaite)

i must
the seas that i crossed
i must face
this voyage
without shame
i must
this land
that is now
my home
i must
the death of the amerindians

my birth
was smeared with blood
other than my mother's
the pebble
was pressed
between their toes
so the lie
could be enforced
now i
must catch the water
in my mouth
use its salt
to embalm me
until each wave
that i stumble out
of writes
the poem
that breathes
through my mouth

-- Opal Palmer Adisa

* * *

"Long Point Light"

Long Point's apparitional
this warm spring morning,
the strand a blur of sandy light,

and the square white
of the lighthouse -- separated from us
by the bay's ultramarine

as if it were nowhere
we could ever go -- gleams
like a tower's ghost, hazing

into the rinsed blue of March,
our last outpost in the huge
indetermination of sea.

It seems cheerful enough,
in the strengthening sunlight,
fixed point accompanying our walk

along the shore.  Sometimes I think
it's the where-we-will-be,
only not yet, like somek visible outcropping

of the afterlife.  In the dark
its deeper invitations emerge:
green witness at night's end,

flickering margin of horizon,
marker of safety and limit.
But limitless, the way it calls us,

and where it seems to want us
to come.  and so I invite it
into the poem, to speak,

and the lighthouse says,
Here is the world you asked for,
gorgeous and opportune,

here is nine o'clock harbor-wide,
and a glinting code:  promise and warning.
The morning's the size of heaven.

What will you do with it?

-- Mark Doty

* * *

"Women at the Seashore"

Their hair mingles with the hair of the wind, and their bodies are
glad to be so wholly theirs and free.

They swing their arms over the beach, and the whiteness of their
wrists penetrates the foam.

The curve of their eyes prolongs the endless trail of sharp-winged
birds flying past in the white sky.

With their mouths pressed against the horizon they slowly and
deeply inhale the virginity of a world just born.

The tips of their fingers touch the height of joy and vertigo where
the air ends and begins.

And seaweed sticks to their shoulders,
glad to be so green.

-- Sophia de Mello Breyner
translated from the Portuguese by  Richard Zenith

* * *


I begged the swelling sea
surging in successive crests
to be like
poplar leaves:
to be a gentle touch
upon my heart or
just a memory of lips.

-- Eugenio de Andrade
translated from the Portuguese by Alexis Levitin

* * *

"Neap Tide"
At half-moon the sun and moon are at right angles to the earth, tugging in
opposite directions . . . . Then the tides are at their lowest: neap tide.  Their
apparent docility is the result of an impasse.
-- Lynn Sharon Schwartz, "The Fatigue Artist"

For four nights I have slept
near the sea, that slow animal
licking the rim of a vast bowl.
For four nights, after meetings,
smalltalk and wine, my dreams
have turned up tears like letters
I haven't read for years --
something is stolen, I can't
remember what, only myself turned
inside-out with betrayal, or my heart
clenched in dismay as my legs
turn to stone on a busy street . . . .
Or I've wakened to a thrill I once craved
and then taught myself to put
aside -- the memory of a man's
touch light as breath over my neck
and shoulders, his hand an eye
seeing my body gladly, and leaving
in me something sunlit, blue,
startling as morning glories
that find their way each autumn into
rows of cotton where I live.

When I was five, a grief
enduring and raw first surfaced
like ruins among the pastels
and mahoganies of my grandparents'
spare room, where I was banished
while adults gathered at the oval table.
I could hear ice in golden drinks,
bracelets making a sound like stars,
and talk circling the room in a current
of perfume.  I want a hollyhock,
I want a hollyhock! I screamed
full-tilt into a tantrum, not knowing
what a hollyhock was but daring them to
guess, to work a miracle, to open the door
and bow to my huge and famished loneliness.

These days I barely nod to old demons
on my way to work.  To dinner.  To planes.
I answer questions.  I answer cellphones.
I get the oil changed.  I stand at the podium.
My man eases beside me at night
with a book, like a weary foot into
its slipper, and lately I feel like the essence
of slipper, a durable comfort
creased with tiny lines.  My body
bleeds off-schedule now, my skin
loosens its hold over muscle and bone
but I can run three miles without effort
and seem to be leaning full-tilt into
outliving nature's use for me.

Today I sit on Gulf sand white and cool
as sugar, amazed that the sea allows me
to come so close to its green edge
and stay.  Far from light, a labyrinth
of currents must send up
these little waves, these twitchings
of the huge animal in its sleep;
they leave bits of shell at my feet
and retreat, their rhythms
seeping in to bring forgotten parts of me,
once omnivorous, tamed
to the reef of my wakings

and to ease the grip of muscle
over vein, of vein over blood as my thoughts
subside to a cruising speed . . . .
Those hollyhocks?  Maybe
they were the essence of
morning glories not reduced
to simile.  Constructs of indigo and air
weaving through green and stealing
nothing, greeting the sun and holding it
pooled during the night's evolution,
maybe visiting other fields -- or even
planets -- before floating
back to their places.  I see them
when I jog, their blue so clear
it seems a form of insight.

-- Leslie Ullman

* * *

"Estuary Sonnet"

As much as I walk by and see the water
up to the second line, I skim a slate
and in the time it sinks my feet are wet
and there are huge boats lifting in the harbour.

And then as far as I have time to wander,
I wander back and there's a heron's foot
lofting the water which is now a mud-flat
and some old shipwreck gnawn to its vertebrae.

Touch me the moment where these worlds collide,
the river's cord unravelled by the tide . . .

and I will show you nothing -- neither high
nor low nor salt nor fresh -- only the skill
of tiny creatures like the human eye
to live by water, which is never still.

-- Alice Oswald

* * *


The waves run up the shore
and fall back.  I run
up the approaches of God
and fall back.  The breakers return
reaching a little further,
gnawing away at the main land.
They have done this thousands
of years, exposing little by little
the rock under the soil's face.
I must imitate them only
in my return to the assault,
not in their violence.  Dashing
my prayers at him will achieve
little other than the exposure
of the rock under his surface.
My returns must be made
on my knees.  Let despair be known
as my ebb-tide; but let prayer
have its springs, too, brimming,
disarming him; discovering somewhere
among his fissures deposits of mercy
where trust may take root and grow.

-- R. S. Thomas

* * *


Skillful, proud, handsome, with a sturdy knife,
he sliced the big fish on the wharf --
he threw the tail and the sword in the sea.
The blood seethed on the planks, shining.
His feet, his hands were red.
One woman said to another:  "His knife is red, how well it matches his black eyes --."
Red, black, red.  On an upper narrow sidestreet,
on an antiquated black scale
the fishermen's children weighed fish, coal.

-- Yannis Ritsos
translated from the Greek by Kostas Myrsiades

* * *

"The Beach at Abousir"

Nature does justice here to man, whatever man may do to man;
Though equally unplanned her actions.  So the factions
Of the proud uprising wave submerge the crowded bands
Of sharp and silver sand.  The nervous scrambling crab,
perpetual refugee,
Is stranded by war's tide, and on his wasted legs
Runs to recover what is ever being lost for ever.
Yet the sea-medusa,
Richer blue in that rich blue, lolls in a looser motion
Up and down, drowning and never drowned.
Against the dazzling silver, dull unreflecting rags;
Between the Sunday cars, those pointed brittle shapes,
like trees in winter --
Aged men and ancient children.  Patient,
They watch their chance, to steal a towel or cushion,
Or else receive, from passionless bathers, some piastres.
Masters and peasants,
The banks of silver sand, the clutching hand --
for us between --
Too hard, too hard, to live between the black and white,
Under a wordless sun, too bright, where no committee
snips the Gordian knot.
But suddenly the knife is lifted.  Under the waves
Of rippling stars, the sagging moon, a sole voice raves.

-- D. J. Enright

 * * *

"Eulogy for a Hermit Crab"

You were consistently brave
On these surf-drenched rocks, in and out of their salty
Slough holes around which the entire expanse
Of the glinting grey sea and the single spotlight
Of the sun went spinning and spinning and spinning
In a tangle of blinding spume and spray
and pistol-shot collisions your whole life long.
You stayed.  Even with the wet icy wind of the moon
Circling your silver case night after night after night
You were here.

And by the gritty orange curve of your claws,
By the soft, wormlike grip
Of your hinter body, by the unrelieved wonder
Of your black-pea eyes, by the mystified swing
And swing and swing of your touching antennae,
You maintained your name meticulously, you kept
Your name intact exactly, day after day after day.
No one could say you were less than perfect
In the hermitage of your crabness.

Now, beside the racing, incomprehensible racket 
Of the sea stretching its great girth forever
Back and forth between this direction and another,
Please let the words of this proper praise I speak
Become the identical and proper sound
Of my mourning.

-- Pattiann Rogers

* * *

No gathering of  seaside poems could possibly be
complete without the finest one of the 20th century:

"The Idea of Order at Key West"

She sang beyond the genius of the sea.
The water never formed to mind or voice,
Like a body wholly body, fluttering
Its empty sleeves; and yet its mimic motion
Made a constant cry, caused constantly a cry,
That was not ours, although we understood,
Inhuman, of the veritable ocean.

The sea was not a mask.  No more was she.
The song and water were not medleyed sound
Even if what she sang was what she heard,
Since what she sang was uttered word by word.
It may be that in all her phrases stirred
The grinding water and the gasping wind;
But it was she and not the sea we heard.

For she was the maker of the song she sang.
The ever-hooded, tragic-gestured sea
Was merely a place by which she walked to sing.
Whose spirit was this? we said, because we knew
It was the spirit we sought and knew
That we should ask this often as she sang.

If it was only the dark voice of the sea
That rose, or even colored by many waves;
If it was only the outer voice of sky
And cloud, of the sunken coral water-walled,
However clear, it would have been deep air,
The heaving speech of air, a summer sound
Repeated in a summer without end
And sound alone.  But it was more than that,
More even than her voice, and ours, among
The meaningless plungings of water and the wind,
Theatrical distances, bronze shadows heaped
On high horizons, mountainous atmospheres
Of sky and sea.

It was her voice that made
The sky acuest at its vanishing.
She measured to the hour its solitude.
She was the single artificer of the world
In which she sang.  And when she sang, the sea,
Whatever self it had, became the self
That was her song, for she was the maker.  Then we,
As we beheld her striding there alone,
Knew that there never was a world for her
Except the one she sang and, singing, made.

Ramon Fernandez, tell me, if you know,
Why, when the singing ended and we turned
Toward the town, tell why the glassy lights,
The lights in the fishing boats at anchor there,
As the night descended, tilting in the air,
Mastered the night and portioned out the sea,
Fixing emblazoned zones and fiery poles,
Arranging, deepening, enchanting night.

Oh!  Blessed rage for order, pale Ramon,
The maker's rage to order words of the sea,
Words of the fragrant portals, dimly-starred,
And of ourselves and of our origins,
In ghostlier demarcations, keener sounds.

-- Wallace Stevens

* * *
* * *

Monday, February 09, 2009


Twelve 12-Line Poems

"June:  The Gianicolo"

Driven to this, the pairs of lovers roll
into the parking lot like shaken dice,
and though  they've come expressly for a vista
much grander than themselves, begin to fuse
into the other's eyes.  Oh, that fond conviction
of a match made in Heaven!
Below them, at the base
of an ancient hill, the million lamps of Rome
light up in rosy approbation, each
signalling to one chosen counterpart
among the stars the nightly freshened wish
to lie uniquely in its dazzled gaze.

-- Mary Jo Salter

* * *


Who will recognize  him

mother father brothers
that other woman perhaps
whose face
in a clouded mirror
flows down like rain

and you
when you look at yourself
what do you see

I see a man created
in the image and likeness of a god
who's gone

-- Tadeusz Rozewicz
translated from the Polish by Adam Czerniawski

* * *

"Best Friend Robot Poem"

The best friend robot said:  "am i than 'smater'
are you but retard drater hrum!"  And my dad
wanted to take him back to Robots 'R' Us,
but I felt bad for him because he'd been
getting into my dad's really good oil stock
lately.  Normally, he'd have a few squirts on
New Year's or Christmas Morning, but lately
my Robot dad and my Robot Best Friend have
been disagreeing a lot.  Mom won't talk to either
of them.  She plays bridge with all of her online
friends once a week and I overhear her complain
when I sit quietly at the top of the escalator.

-- Jason Christie

* * *

"Prodded Out of Prayer"

Stilled yet by
the gauzed withdrawingness of
midmorning sky:

lo, a sharply lit
acutely poignant
and wonderfully humorous

It was an ant
towing a grass-blade
in a bee-line, but on
rougher terrain,
to the anthill.

-- Margaret Avison

* * *

"The Dogwood Trees"
(for Robert Slagle)

Seeing dogwood trees in bloom,
I am reminded, Robin,
of our journey through the mountains
in an evil time.

Among rocks and rock-filled streams
white bracts of dogwood
clustered.  Beyond, nearby, shrill slums
were burning,

the crooked crosses flared.  We drove
with bitter knowledge
of the odds against comradeship we dared
and were at one.

-- Robert Hayden

* * *


These poet words, nuggets out of corruption
or jewels dug from dung or speech from flesh
still bloody red, still half afraid to plunge
in the ceaseless waters foaming over death.

These poet words, nuggets no jeweller sells
across the counter of the world's confusion
but far and near, internal or external
burning the agony of earth's complaint.

These poet words have secrets locked in them
like nuggets laden with the younger sun.
Who will unlock must first himself be locked
who will be locked must first himself unlock.

-- Martin Carter

* * *

"The Yoga Exercise"

Within a rushing stream of morning light
she stands still as a heron with one sole
held flush along the other inner thigh
and her long arms like bony wings folded
back so that when the motion of a breeze
passes through her body there is a deep

repose at its root and in an eye's blink
she has become this gently swaying tree
stirring in the wind of its breath while linked
to ground by the slow flow of energy
that brings her limbs together now in prayer
and blessing for the peace she is finding there.

-- Floyd Skloot

* * *

"Sender's Address"

The storm is rising and the buried people who lay
smouldering in me all summer are glowing
would break out in a blaze
if the wind found so much as a crack.

But the house is wind-proof.  The ash from my cigarette
falls off by itself
and the postage stamp on the window-sill lies  unmoving
although the walls shake under the force of the storm.

Here there's nothing to be sent
and nothing to be received.
The letters on my table are not going to fly.
The sender's address is too heavy.

-- Henrik Nordbrandt
translated from the danish by Robin Fulton
* * *

"The Art of War"

I'm sorry I was asleep when you called.
I was up till dawn
attacking the Prussians at Ligny,
and I didn't do a good job, I'm afraid, there
were still plenty left
when I pushed "save"
and shut down the computer.  I'm glad
I didn't know any of them personally
as I ordered the 12 - pounders
to concentrate on the tiny clusters of veteran brigades,
and clicked on all the available cavalry
to erase the inexperienced Landwehr from the screen.

-- Tony Towle

* * *

"You lean your face on sorrow, don't even"

You lean your face on sorrow, don't even
hear the nightingale.  Or is it lark?
The air is hard for you to take, you, torn
between the faithfulness you owe

your mother's earth and that bleached
blueness where birds disappear.
Music, let's call it that, 
was always your wound, but also

it was exaltation in the dunes.
Do not listen to the nightingale.  Or to the lark.
It is within
that all music turns to bird.

-- Eugenio de Andrade
translated from the Portuguese by Alexis Levitin

* * *

"Beethoven's Quartet in C Major, Opus 59"

The violins
are passionately
occupied, but
it is the cellist

who seems to be
holding the music
in his arms,
moving his bow

as if it were
a dowsing rod
and the audience
dying of thirst.

-- Linda Pastan

* * *

"The Song of the Whisk"

My flail demolishes
The gold of yolks;
My mesh abolishes
What it would coax.

The waterspout can frisk
While it souffles the sea;
What's the twister but a whisk
For instant entropy?

I will erect a pinnacle
Of undulant bearnaise;
With clicking quite clinical,
Paradisal mayonnaise.

-- Eric Ormsby

* * *
* * *

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