Brigantine, New Jersey

by Mary Turkot




somewhere hidden—

found when flitting

through pages of a novel the graduate student

teaching this 17th century course

hand-picked with all that eagerness

and passion I’ve been missing lately—

it sat in what felt like waiting for me

until it could leap off the page

at the brush of my index

and thumb, soaring into me

with its inky meaning,

splashing off the edge as I flipped,

the salty residue that drop by drop

hits my cheek at the crash of a wave—

this word hit me in that airborne way,

flying off like spray:




a thing, the way nouns are,

the not-person-or-place kind,

I never knew it to be—

but I loved the sight of it

in all of its non-proper glory

when I searched for a definition

to give context to the 1600s sea voyage

of our class discussion,

where the instant result generator

of my intolerable impatience

told me that brigantine means

sailing ship, two-masted

with a square-rigged foremast

and a fore-and-aft-rigged mainmast,

which to me sounded like linguistic twister

but was really something gorgeous

meant to be clipped down to size

and held in a locket

close to the heart.



my Brigantine collects me

each summer to reflect on

(forget) the contents of previous semesters,

but this seems worth remembering:

my oceanography course—

taught by a man familiar with the jersey shore

in that intimate way only possible

through a childhood marked by small

sandy footprints and wooden outdoor showers,

a once-upon-a-time boy

riding his beach-cruiser to the inlet,

fishing and skipping flat shells

on the bay from that dock

with the “no-trespassing” sign—

began with tidal patterns,

wave height vs length and the chance way

they sometimes go rogue

in a storm, taking down ships,

ships like the brigantine,

ships housing crews full of people

in love with the thing that is killing them

but too stubborn and full of wanderlust

to let the risk of the voyage outweigh it’s worth,

ships determined to carry through

every crest, until the very end.



I’m sure I won’t recall this state’s semidiurnal tides,

or the details of the story that took place

in those pages around the single word

that I have been dwelling on and

turning over like the scuffling sea crab

caught in the pull of the atlantic

before delving back down into tunnel safety,

tumbling over itself, clumsy,

but there it is, the latched locket

above my beating heart

full of patterns not so easily mapped out

in science classes

or told in books

but the ones that sneak glittering moments

of recognition, of home,

into college coursework

and smiling strangers

determined to teach me something,

an unseen pull like gravity

drawing experience together

and leaving me reeling

on the streets and sprawled on the beaches

of my Brigantine, light and sea salt

flickering on my skin,

my hands clutching tight to my chest

the sprigs of meaning

I choose to keep.


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