What are we reading?
Joe wrote a book.
Really? What’s it called?
Are there any cats in Joe’s book?
I hear Joe’s working on a sequel.
Tell him to put more cats in it.
Page 2 of 6
What are we reading?
Over at тнє ѕυℓтαη’ѕ ѕєαℓ, Youssef Rakha, Egyptian novelist, journalist and photographer, has posted an excerpt from “Penina’s Letters.” Penina has just picked up Salty at the airport, and they are driving to the beach and up into Refugio. Fly on over to Youssef’s “Cairo’s Coolest Cosmoplitan Hotel” and check out the the excerpt.
“Penina’s Letters” has turned up in some interesting places the past few weeks:
Ocean Surfing Love Letters War Epistolary Bildungsroman Santa Monica Bay Beach Cities School Work Family Friendship Self-deception Literary Fiction Folk Song Narrative…
“Penina’s Letters” takes place in the beach cities along Santa Monica Bay, with a fictionalized beach town named Refugio squeezed in between El Porto and Grand Avenue. The town of Refugio takes the place of the iconic towers and power plant between the water and the dunes of El Segundo.
The style includes epistolary writing, bildungsroman, and satire and irony. The time of the setting is not explicitly stated, nor is the war involved given a specific name, but readers may argue the story takes place in the 1960s and the early 1970s – in any case, it’s not a history book.
The main characters include Salvador (Sal or Salty) Persequi, the first person narrator, just returned from the war; his girlfriend, Penina Seablouse; and their two friends Puck Malone and Henry Killknot – all of whom have known one another since high school, and in the present time of the story are in their twenties.
“Penina’s Letters” is intended to be literary fiction, however off it might fall for some readers of that target.
The paperback version of “Penina’s Letters” is 290 pages (around 70,000 words) in length. It was designed for publication using the CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform – that means I self-published it.
Draft segments of “Penina’s Letters” appeared in The Boulevard (Summer 2012), a publication of the Attic Institute of Arts and Letters. Parts of the “How to Surf” chapter appeared in different form on Berfrois on September 29, 2015.
Errata: The proofreading eye often sees only what it expects to see. I tried reading the whole thing backwards, to avoid that phenom, but soon got pretty dizzy, so it didn’t seem to help much. Of course, some changes will simply never suggest themselves until you hit the send button. It’s like some mistakes hide back, waiting in the shadows, and as soon as you hit the send button, they jump out and scare you, yelling, “Ha, ha! You missed me! You missed me!” If one scares you, or anything seems amiss, please let me know! Meantime, I hope you enjoy “Penina’s Letters.”
“Yr lines, sunny boy,
bingy, not calm,
head busy jabots,”
read Madame Fraus,
by the tide that rips
rocks thru yr palms.
bit sweet lit life,
palms stage aligned,
neck aflame, hair
aquiline wings smack
& bay across draft brow.
Paddle out, palms
cupped, plod, slog,
moil, & no sloom.”
No sleep, steep crag
to pine green palms,
in line for clay water.
Around another point,
the persuasive ocean
spreads open palms.
“I’ll see you next week,”
Madame Fraus said.
“Leave the door open.”
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.
At their usual spot,
the point at Refugio,
the surf was flat,
so they boogied down
in the cove,
the fronds of the palms
fat and glassy green,
the rocks at the edge
smooth with rust moss hair,
the nose of his board
thrust up and curling
and curling in the blue
air of smiling swells,
but still the waves
would not break
into hysterical laughter:
“There are no trees
on the sea,” she said,
holding a cream white
pink mophead hydrangea.
“You look for shade
under the cool curl,”
he said, recalling their first
time – as soon as he stood
he wiped out,
his board pushed in
with the soupy surf,
he wore no leash,
paddled out again,
and she lotioned in the sand.
What was that she said about the skin
on his hands and forearms,
boiling on stove, “That looks bad.”
Blue dark wet orange oil damp oars drift awake
dawn dress coffee smoke brown falls upon brown
slow walk down curved sandy path to the water
empty nets sea grass tired boats in fresh tide wait.
Surf sound spooning shingling
smooth rocks growing on his arms
that opposite real rocks grow larger
with each receding tide.
He thinks about love water
work moon sleepy fog
legislated blather laughter
He’s not an especially proud man
unless provoked unnecessarily.
He has a few books on a shelf
in the kitchen he touches evenings.
He thinks severity and frequency
as all men do capacity purpose
of hymns folk songs and surf music
and silence at the end of the path.
He’s no interests but cars and guitars
stars in her eyes sand on her skin salt hair
gloss on her fingernails white
daisies between her wiggling toes.
Wave after wave forgotten fishes
swim past her hands sleeved
embraced recorded let go.
At the cannery he never did learn
to stand still that fisherman’s value
he no longer wanted his friend
who now fished a desk in Admin.
The smell of tar and turpentine as he cleaned her feet
shampoo that smelled like bubble gum
steel shavings and lead chips the plumber left behind
carob seeds rotting on fog wet boardwalk.
Ocean fish air and orange crabs on ice at wood wharf stalls
after shave and Brylcreem Saturday Night adjectives
bingo sock hop carnies and a new noun in town
cool morning breeze on an angel’s moonburned skin.