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Watermarks from a Night Spring

Embers of a partially burned ocean
In a box in a dank basement molting notes
A weathered surfer slowly descends the creaking

Worn stairs, dark swells yawning
Fish eyed and barnacle knuckled he climbs
Finds and opens the box, peers in, smells the pages

Runs salted fingers over the raised words
Rusting paper clips, chiseled letters in Courier font
Fading beached seagulls washing away in an incoming tide

Wired spiraled journaled waves
Bleaching across the page ink in water
Blistering sun burnt tattoos on old shivered skin

He can no longer read without bottled glasses
He chuckles, the tide receding washing scouring
White out rocks across words stuck buried in red tide pools

Breathing with a snorkel
The surfer leers over the smoldering sea
Takes up the seaweed soiled waxed manuscript

And paddles out of the basement
Walks down to the beach and what remains
Of the water and casts out the paper fish net

Into a set of scaling waves
Lit with a lustrous industrial moon
The waves curling letters in blue neon.

(Click any photo to view gallery)

Without you tonight

A seeking breeze softly slips
under the sleeping cherry tree
a cursory note, “I am too busy.
Too, too, toodle-loo,”
smiles, hushes, and sounds off.
A branch snaps, and a cat recalls the night
when the owl, the nightingale,
and the toad went out walking.

The moon follows the trio into the tea garden, pulling
behind the sounds of the rollicking ocean waves.
In the garden, two women sit talking:

           “I wrench or hammer or pull or push
           To disassemble and repair
           To build in empty air
           The sound truth that is not
           Sound enough.”
 
           “I don’t believe the truth
           That there is no truth
           There are two truths
           The one you reject
           And the one you embrace.”

Drowned out by the singing waves slopped with frothing beer,
An old, lost surfer takes a hearty long piss on the briny rocks
At the water’s rough edge and mutters a half assed poem
To pass the night in song outside walking the dark beach
While the women sit talking with the cat in the cove of the garden
Under the cherry tree awakening and petals falling all
In one great breath the ocean waves belly laughing full.

Surfers

And then went down to the book: Gloria Steinem’s The Beach Book

Gloria Steinem’s The Beach Book (1963) is dedicated “To Ocean Beach Pier that was and to Paradise Island.” But Steinem wrote little of the book, an example the first piece of Chapter One, “The Suntan”: “How to Get One.” Most of the rest of the book is a collection of writing by others, pieces related, often distantly, to the beach. The book is a book-beachcomber’s collection of writing (and illustrations) about the beach, to be read when on the beach, or when contemplating the loss of a beach.

Steinem’s book assumes a beach culture of a leisure class, beach bums, those with time and ennui enough to carry their bag with lotion, beach towel, books and magazines, go-to-the-beach paraphernalia, and parasol, to set-up in the sand up from the water, people with time to kill until the ocean comes for them. Don’t go near the water alert: beach bums, not surf bums – there are no surfers in the book, alas. Though there is a black and white photo of President John F. Kennedy, from the Los Angeles Times News Bureau, on the beach in Santa Monica, surrounded by fans, soaking wet in swim trunks. But he doesn’t look like any kind of bum; he looks like a surfer, or an LA County Lifeguard.

The introduction to Steinem’s book, improbably, as he tells us, is written by John Kenneth Galbraith, who explains in some detail that he does not like the beach. In fact, the few times he’s been to the beach have been when he was ensconced in the “main attraction…an excellent hotel set well back from the sand.” Nevertheless, Galbraith appreciates “what makes the beach in our society…A beach is not a place but a state of mind.” Indeed, until the ocean intrudes – from The Beach Book book-comber collection:

“And the waters increased, and the waters prevailed” (“Noah and the Flood,” Genesis).

“It seemed to explode all round the ship with an overpowering concussion and a rush of great waters, as if an immense dam had been blown to windward. It destroyed at once the organized life of the ship by its scattering effect” (from Typhoon, by Joseph Conrad).

“The night had brought little relief from the heat, and at dawn a hot gust of wind blows across the colorless sea” (from “The Seventh Seal,” by Ingmar Bergman).

“They came ashore on Omaha Beach, the slogging, unglamorous men that no one envied” (from The Longest Day, by Cornelius Ryan).

“To keep from feeling guilty about spending so much time on a tan, it is advisable to read or think something while you lie there” (from The Beach Book, “The Suntan: How to Get One,” by Gloria Steinem).

“As soon as the crust was cool enough to retain water, it began to rain. The deluge is faintly described in Genesis, but instead of forty days and forty nights, it rained for more nearly forty centuries. It rained without letup and with the force of a tropical downpour. It rained until the clouds had dumped something like three hundred million cubic miles of water upon the bare rocks. (“The Birth of the Ocean,” from Peter Freuchen’s Book of the Seven Seas).

“Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach? / I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach. / I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each. / I do not think they will sing to me” (from “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” by T. S. Eliot).

Steinem does not use Ezra Pound in her book for the beach. But if she had, she might have drawn from both the first Canto and the older “The Seafarer.” In the first Canto we are already in the middle of something: “And then went down to the ship, / Set keel to breakers, forth on the godly sea, and / We set up mast and sail on that swart ship…Thus with stretched sail, we went over the sea till day’s end. / Sun to his slumber, shadows o’er all the ocean, / came we then to the bounds of deepest water….”

“Canto I” follows the older “The Seafarer,” who tells his own story, first person, of life at sea: “May I, for my own self, song’s truth reckon, / Journey’s jargon, how I in harsh days / Hardship endured oft. / Bitter breast-cares have I abided, / Known on my keel many a care’s hold, / And dire sea-surge, and there I oft spent / Narrow nightwatch nigh the ship’s head / While she tossed close to cliffs.” He “shall have his sorrow for sea-fare.”