Santa Monica Bay, water like lead
ladled from a plumber’s melting pot.
Fog spills oily blue
foam fills with air, pulls some green under.
Close in, swells steam and foam, a salty dough of seaweed.
Waterers wax boards, paddle out north end at 45th Street, first smoky light, shadows of refinery plant, dunes still in shade, covered in olive drab.
The surfers paddle out, into the surf.
They work the waves like fishermen,
air full of flush, gush, white hissing bass horns,
trembling treble flourish finish.
like a whale sounding, in a long lull,
water like coffee with milk and honey
where the waves churn the sandy bottom.
A surfer trio returns to the beach, short paddle from small waves now high tide,
rolled waves rope caulked and cold chisel hammered.
The surfers lift their boards into a truck, laughing in wet trunks, salted muscle, and tussled hair. The surfers never grow weary of waves, dancing drones under a lemon yellow flower. The waves open blue, break lime green, fall white
in simple declarative sentences
of plumbed gist, of easy escape.
“The strand and the waves exist no more,
the summer is dead,” Samuel Beckett said.
Los Angeles, South Santa Monica Bay, beach city surf, Strand cruise Hermosa to El Porto, royal blue bicycle paddling along, waves closed out bass lines, high spring tide, full moon.
Angel’s eyes perpetually open,
losing particles of neon green light,
Mister Jama quick walking Chaplinesque,
black dressed for snow, Silence caged in his palms.
Swells slumber under mounds of silver paint,
disheveled waves chiseled from lead cakes,
grunion running in surf fanning the beach
full of lustrous flickers in the moon glow.
The surfer girls come and go, come and go,
singing of clothes in forget-me-not lingo,
walking the beach in blue and gold.
At night they tape their hair to their cheeks
to hold the curl, the surfer boys
long to know, long to know.
The Strand bars net the last generation, inside, drinking beer, surfboards against the wall, bleached parasols, a few surf waves still, but figuratively, as if one finds waves in some oceanic dictionary, listening for the mermaid’s music in books.
The surfer hears the buzz of his own skeg humming
across the pages, heavy sets, far out.
Turning right on the corona’s shoulder
the surfer grows a little older, the water somewhat colder.
Flour soup brushes up the dusty beach after the sun falls.
First light the beach dustless after all night off shore blow,
the water glassed off, air clear to Malibu north,
Palos Verdes south.
A bloom of waves spills and flows over the beach,
foaming across the bleached sand as the tide rises,
smooth after the offshore wind blowing all night long,
the morning water crystal, waves flapping like sheets,
an airy fuss slapping movement then a quick flip,
and the rush of fish smell mixed with wax and salt and hair and skin.
Surfers like a swarm of dragonflies crowd the waves,
empty at first light, then three California pelicans
swooping low in a line over the edge of the break,
blessing surfers believing in waves,
sitting on their boards just outside the break.
One takes off on a gray-blue glossy pearl,
but this surfer should be somewhere else,
sees an expressionless ocean,
does not believe in waves,
upside-down in the surf,
carving and cutting too hard,
this surfer rides this wave
like it’s not the wave he wants,
so he throws it away,a discarded piece of waste paper.
He bolts the wave to chalk
flounces about, his board flotsam.
This surfer flouts about
and scorns the sea.
He does not truly believe in the ocean.
He does not flower with the waves,
and a dark brack rises
and takes him away.
And the Summer dies.
“The strand and waves exist no more,
the summer is dead,”
Samuel Beckett said,
and the surfer believed him.
The dead sun did not matter.
He lost his surfboard, lost the path to the beach, what waves there far beyond his reach. Wave peepers came and pushed him away. He slept in ditches. They even took his bicycle. No technology could save him anyway.
He sat at an intersection,
with a cardboard sign that read,
“Won’t you please help
a surfer with no wave?”
A woman stopped, rolled down her window,
and blew him a kiss that fizzed like a wave,
and to thank her, he wrote this:
- Nothing makes sense
- in a waveless universe,
- where surfers ride beams of light
- on virtual surfboards.
Many anecdotes followed.
This one’s about a surfer who stuck with it, tried glass and glue but tossed all that, painted houses in the afternoons, surfed mornings and evenings. This surfer had a feel for boards, loved the way the resin and glass felt watery smooth and clean, bright surf shop stickers buried beneath wax. This surfer believed in waves, was a generous local, too,
didn’t want to fight, was easily satisfied with a simple sea, lived a slow life, long days, in the bowl of Santa Monica Bay, loved the sun, water, salt beaches, the surf songs The Waves sang.
The Waves were a beach band, paddled out brittle surf songs on metallico Teles and Jazzmaster bass, drums the speed of breaking waves.
That’s it, not much more.
The surfer got drafted,
went away to war
came back, went into Insurance,
said he would never forget
the last wave he ever surfed,
after which he felt he’d never grow old,
then he left the beach for the rain and cold.
“Things as they are
Are changed upon the blue guitar,” Wallace Stevens said.
The surfer placed a board in Los Angeles,
and long it was, upon a wave,
it made the disheveled surf
array in dressed lines.
The surf surrounded him,
the board glassed upon the wave
like a poem,
It seemed all cool but absurd,
breathless, and dead,
not like a bird or a fish,
like nothing else in Los Angeles.
Then he added something more,
a man upon the board,
and filled the waves with bicycles,
The waves grew somber, the beach cold,
the surfboard a splinter in the wave’s skin.
The surfer fell, it was Fall after all,
and found himself alone at the end of a pier.
He was free to swim to shore,
yet felt a curious fatigue engulf him,
a surfer’s anxiety,
for from the beach the waves lacked this intensity.
He paddled toward shore,
but a riptide pulled him away and away.
He treaded water, drifting.
He lost sight of land.
The sun fell, and no moon rose.
The waves met the night.
They broke in the sky
and rained down a dark salt.
The surfer clung to his board,
flotsam and jetsam floated by,
old rusted bicycle parts,
useless in the waves.
There were no fish, no birds,
no beach, no palms.
The surfer drifted in the inky night sea
below a blue black salt lick night sky.
He thought he saw a light, the light rose,
rose or fell, he was not sure,
if he floated in water or in air.
His surfboard disappeared.
Storm surf flushed chaos across the beach.
I waited for the surfer to return,
I went to work shaping and glassing a new surfboard.
Every evening, I walk down to the water
and watch the waves for his dancing legs,
his leaning stretch, his tumbling shadow,
his crouch, his ocean filled gills.