Is nothing real but when I was fifteen, Going on sixteen, like a corny song? I see myself so clearly then, and painfully— Knees bleeding through my usher's uniform Behind the candy counter in the theater After a morning's surfing; paddling frantically To top the brisk outsiders coming to wreck me, Trundle me clumsily along the beach floor's Gravel and sand; my knees aching with salt. Is that all I have to write about? You write about the life that's vividest. And if that is your own, that is your subject. And if the years before and after sixteen Are colorless as salt and taste like sand— Return to those remembered chilly mornings, The light spreading like a great skin on the water, And the blue water scalloped with wind-ridges, And—what was it exactly?—that slow waiting When, to invigorate yourself, you peed Inside your bathing suit and felt the warmth Crawl all around your hips and thighs, And the first set rolled in and the water level Rose in expectancy, and the sun struck The water surface like a brassy palm, Flat and gonglike, and the wave face formed. Yes. But that was a summer so removed In time, so specially peculiar to my life, Why would I want to write about it again? There was a day or two when, paddling out, An older boy who had just graduated And grown a great blonde moustache, like a walrus, Skimmed past me like a smooth machine on the water, And said my name. I was so much younger, To be identified by one like him— The easy deference of a kind of god Who also went to church where I did—made me Reconsider my worth. I had been noticed. He soon was a small figure crossing waves, The shawling crest surrounding him with spray, Whiter than gull feathers. He had said my name Without scorn, just with a bit of surprise To notice me among those trying the big waves Of the morning break. His name is carved now On the black wall in Washington, the frozen wave That grievers cross to find a name or names. I knew him as I say I knew him, then, Which wasn't very well. My father preached His funeral. He came home in a bag That may have mixed in pieces of his squad. Yes, I can write about a lot of things Besides the summer that I turned sixteen. But that's my ground swell. I must start Where things began to happen and I knew it.
Mark Jarman - 1952-
Dispatches from Devereux Slough
Black Phoebe Highwayman of the air, coal-headed, darting Plunderer of gnat hordes, lasso with beak – "Surely, that fellow creature on the wing," The phoebe thinks, "should fly like this." And loops His flight path in a wiry noose, takes wing Like a cast line and hits the living fly, Ripping it from the fluid of its life. Devereux Lagoon Shiners leap ahead of diving cormorants And killdeer cry, alarming one another. In an egret's beak, the catch flashes like shook foil. How well these field glasses scope out the place— A kestrel sky, serrations of the Madres, And sand flats darkened by a rare rain shower. Such an odd peace, as creatures stalk each other Dispatch from Devereux Slough Fall, 2008 The gulls have no idea. The distant bark of sea lions gives nothing away. The white-tailed kite flutters and hunts. The pelicans perform their sloppy angling. The ironbark eucalyptus dwells in ignorance and beauty. And the night herons brood in their heronry like yoga masters, each balanced on a twig. The world has changed. The news will take some time to get here. From the Garden Toad A cri de coeur of mud, a heartfelt groan Of deep damp, mother rainfall and her sire; A plea from underground, from drooping shade, From memories of sunlight and clear water; Reproach of an old grandparent half-forgotten – All in that voice, announcing a desire To have sex under the giant philodendron. Marine Layer No one is out tonight, but just in case, A tubaphone's deep echo, like a seine net, Sweeps under darkness and pulls darkness in The way a trellis shadow cages light. To hear the foghorn is to hear your childhood, If you were lucky to have lived near ocean, Moving again into your neighborhood. Overcast on Ellwood Mesa Hawks like it. Wings cast no shadow, hovering, And white crowned sparrows are easier to pick out Among the foxtails, scurrying like mice. Under the gray cloud cover, blue birds course Like running water through the fennel stalks, And the shrike, color of the sky, keeps watch From the barbed wire of the startling green golf course. September Song Those phosphorescent shoulders of the night surf Passing beneath the pier, as we looked down, Were an agitation in the falling water Of creatures set to glowing, all together, By sudden apprehension, which we perceived As incandescent wonder, our eyes feasting, Our hearts filled by the light of crashing down. Shorebreak, 3 a.m. At night the swell and crash, the swell and crash, As waves rush forward, peak, and then collapse Gasping and giving up a ghost of spray, Sounds from a distance like a low-voiced hush. Awake, alone, at the right hour to hear it, That hush, for all the sleeplessness behind it, Can lead one, walking wounded, back to sleep. Sundowner Waking at nightfall like the other monsters, The vampire and the moonstruck wolfman, arson Is hardly required to set your body burning, Thirsting for dryness, dry brush, stucco houses. Flame wind, ember wind, wind of moonlit smoke, Rolling a fog of ash downhill to sea, The sun's down is the harsh fur of your burning. Surgeons The egret is more patient than any watcher And lances its incision when its stillness Has made one look away. Its anesthetic Is stillness, and it numbs the water's skin. The pelican takes a hatchet to the water, The egret plies a scalpel. They extract fish, But one by smash and gulp, and one by stillness. The Crystal Ship Sands Beach, Goleta The famous rock star thought up his famous rock song While gazing out at the oil derrick offshore. Lit up at night it might look, to stoned eyes, Like a faceted galleon perfect for a song. Tonight, as sunset gives off its green flash, The derrick has that look. And so does the oil barge Docked to it, dead black, filling up with cargo. To a Dead Sea Lion at Sands Beach You had returned from dry land back to water, Preferring it, and welcomed the new limbs, Webbed to conceal your toe and finger bones. You rolled along the surf, all memory Of other motion swept back in your wake, And ended here, among fly-buzzing kelp. Sleek swimmer drowned, and with your unwebbed bones. Heaven When we are reunited after death, The owls will call among the eucalyptus, The white tailed kite will arc across the mesa, And sunset cast orange light from the Pacific Against the golden bush and eucalyptus Where flowers and fruit and seeds appear all seasons And our paired silhouettes are waiting for us.