Poem for a National Seashore

Brenda Hillman - 1951-

i.

    —& humans walked to the edge of the sand
  through a bank of verbena & fog;  
     they thought they’d never get over
the deaths, but they were starting to. Worry
     about money rested in their phones. Talk of
 candidates had stalled. Some sang. Grays of

    objects rested in their packs. They had come
to the edge with children or with friends. Big 
   nothing quieted the crows. Wings of dried ink.
The snake had gone back to the hills, to velvet &
the brian-grasses; it digested a mouse near its spine.
     Some sang. The fox went back & would never

meet the snake except through the ampersand.
     The memory of failure failed for an hour. Some  
        sang. The future was a cosmic particle
seen once a long time ago. Those who had tried
   too often walked with those who had yet to try
    as doubt can walk beside a radical hope—

 

ii.

some had cancer       some walked outside
       some were breaking up    a few

        were getting by      some walked past 
 pines    to their hearts’ desire    thinking
        of sex      or seeds      a few  asked  

    where nature is    bonnard-blue thistles  

yarrow leaves  narrowly     out to  sea   

axio-fog of August    down from bluffs    
   
      others rolled through  dune grass    some
 rested     depressed     a few  made sand-

cities  sandwiches       some went   birdward
 to sooty &  long-billed      murrelet     grebe

 

 iii.

—they had driven to the country, though as  
    a poet wrote The country will bring us no peace;
they took their children of light & flesh
      because the sign was the sun upon the earth,
it was not toxic assets, it was not forwards or
    options or swaps; the sign was not ruin upon

 the sea, for the sea saved some. A caterpillar of
   maybe it was the tiger moth inched along,  
     a few white bristles sticking up, bristles taller
 than the country, & Abronia latifolia's roots would
  not live past the country or the blue-eyed darner
    & the meadow hawk with its three life stages…

  By the sea the orbweaver rappelling beside
        the fleabane was bolder than the country,
          it didn’t see underlying leverage or hedging,
 didn't see collateralized debt obligations & rates,
    or see the probably 100 trillion traded on
what is called futures while the mountain lion that

    has a small future took her young through the O in
October. Human children rolled through dune grass,
 they had a simple laughter in the country, in sand
   so much older than the country, they had a little
gladness for that day while the sign, the shadow
 of death, passed over them but death did not—

 

iv.

      little  litter     on the littoral   shore

  where first peoples  set   tule boats  

     walkers     makers of    a burn tangle

left that ocean      before writing    nations

    whose words    are lost     thick low

mats  now named  beachweed or heliotrope

horned sea rocket       When  John Muir   

a sweeping man   settled farther inland      

that family farmer       grew  peach trees   

    o  ever now      after such sorrow  

      we dreamed       a red ladder of    

birth & death         being set down

 

 

 v.

   The sun paused. It was greeting the soul
  of the day.  The clouds gathered past money,
 they were cumuli- & cirri-, they were glauc-
& grise & gray. The friends talked
   with their thumbs on the tiny machines
& some walked or drank & some loved.

   On the mountain in summer
they had seen serpentine & saw it again
  today, black green not the color of money
  as if a serpent had slid beneath the birth
 of the sea & brought the burned
         waves to the rock.   The friends

had violence in them & they had
      silence too. By the waves the silence
        sounded like swswswswsw or ____ ,
 it sounded like     '''''''''   or even {{{{{. 
       Lichen hung in hashtags & the wind
   was braver than sports. Slowly they

 forgot the grief opening of the book  
& when they saw the secret serpentine
   they knew what could be both you
& not you, that snake & fox &
    word would live with the hooded,
  the ring-necked, the marbled, the blue—

 

vi.

                Otters swam in the lagoon,
            the gates opened in the reeds,
          no suffering between the myths or
         silver smelt diminishing. No metal or
       spilled oil where human hair had been
     used to gather it… Otters have one million
         little hairs per inch of skin so when
  between the reeds they passed they did not

 hurt with cold. Far out to sea 10,000 whales
             swam without the humans.
      The humans breathed when they saw them
not as dire. Liso- & lati- & beside. They stood
   in Abronia latifolia, cries of E or I when they
   saw the whales. Harbingers, Thoreau might
     have said. One tall boy named Finn saw three.  
There was aggression among large mammals

  but no merrill lynching, no goldman saching, 
      no bankers’ greed or quantitative easing
no negative interest rate environment
    yielding minus zero so students pay to be
in debt. There was none of that. Some willow
       buds bobbed in the lagoon, kelp bobbed
 between gray & brown otters’ heads in winter
       cress. Their happiness was research.
 

 

     vii.

             The humans had come     in        strong boats
                      when continents                were closer.
                  That is the theory         in        some accounts. 
          The continents floated        in        & suddenly
        naked-new bodies arrived      in        buckled dunes & radiating
grasses. When some made love     in       the wooden place
                             by the sea              in       autumn her hands were
                     always cold even         in       thick warm
                               fibers & out        in       the charismatic dusk,
  under the harvest moon set        in       the history of
                                   arrivals,          in      browns & gray of winter fog &
                                    maybe          in       the amount of time
                        it took for the         in-      side of them to become
               warm, jazz poured          in       as if from distant fires on
             the west shore, as if         in      animated orange code. Centuries
   passed. When sex was delicious one woman thought, here we are
       at a national seashore, almost nothing goes well for the nation
                  but land held in common past dominance & greed
                   which seemed like a real plan as if love were free

 

viii.

             & heard the reeds hissing    when
                       Drake stepped on land      creeks went
                        below       the new dead  in slim
                               fog  could not be comforted     

  dusky Chlorogalum pomeridianum       the "soap plant"

blooms on dry hillsides       white-crowns nearby

     cloudy  light flowers        wiry blue lines
     
Miwok dug up          hidden bulbs      used
 
     dye from leaves      for tattoos      used

raw bulbs    for lather       from cooked
   bulbs made       a sweet   starch       then      

 with the paste       they glued arrows 

 

ix.

In spring, when the field starts to think & the invisibles
are relaxed, sounds let themselves out to the left. Crows 
   & apples sanction their appeal & humans go out
     almost to the Point & see the baby elk that have
      have fuzzy fur on the horns, grasses through which other
 grasses push. Yellow mustard flowers like paintings in
Europe. The elk are standing out at the precipice
      past dread or Thursdays & the humans start to feel

 pleasure. Some humans don't want elk on their land
       & put up signs with poems: LET'S PROTECT/
BOTH ELK AND COW/ TIME TO BUILD / ELK FENCES NOW.
Humans want to have sex anytime they want but don't want
     the elk to have sex anytime & accuse male elk of
      drinking water before sex, even humans who might
 take property from humans in other countries think
  male elk are being unreasonable for drinking water,

      but the humans love beauty & can be released from
their positions because so many have doubts about
   doubts about what is called the natural world; far below,
      the sea lions are stretched out like rug samples,
  & the humans tarry, looking down at high waves crashing,   
   green with its leader into gray, crashing over what is lost;
the humans name what is lost while going home where
     they live in violence & hope & inconceivable longing—

 

x.

       In woods  where     the spirits stood

    among the signs     past usnea  hanging
   in wet bishop  pines    humans heard

   the loud instances     of wide hawk  

A red-tail      flew over them

E-E-E   & the anti-going   furred one
  crawled past    brown feet   of chanterelles

    waited while one     of the hawk's

          perfect E's flew     to the sky

             & found the     end of time

 

xi.
 
   They had come to the coast as they
        had come to songs as they had come
       to poetry.  When they were odd
children they went to the sea & saw
  the bronze stems in the sand, dune grass
 where the shaman starved & hurt sank
   quietly. The parents were anxious, so
the children tried to act normal to keep them

calm. They didn’t know about threatened
     corals or the sorrow of coastal towns.
The children tried to act normal in school
      when teachers brought packets of poetry.
On holidays, violent games with the cousins
            & the sea grew more toxic &
more lovely. Now they are grown, they’re   
    trying to feel a little less terrible

about everything. They might take a poem
 to the beach for a birthday or a wedding.
   Pelicans fly in their backward Zs.  Sand
is the residue of stars, edges echo eco
  eco, for the house is already beside itself,
        the edges not the center; the children  
laugh as they make the sand houses, not
      remembering they’ll remember —
 

 

xii. 

So it was that the dream went back past the signs

So it was in summer again the loved ones went out to
            the sea at a quarter to dusk

The part of them that could do nothing did nothing
            & the light of them walked along

Walked west forgetting not the horror but forgiving
            others who were happier & the amount

When they got to the waves they gave the ashes of
             the dead to the sea oh blankness cut loose
                        from the dream

& forgot for an hour the anger as they sat & shook
            the small stones from their shoes & walked
                        back over the bridge of fireweed     

Talking about events that mattered as the ashes were
            sucked back in the tide so loss could be lost
                         for a while as love kept them   
                                    in company beside —
                                               

                                                     
for the children & grandchildren of the seashores

More by Brenda Hillman

Sediments of Santa Monica

A left margin watches the sea floor approach
 
It takes 30 million years 
It is the first lover
 
More saints     for Augustine's mother

A girl in red shorts shakes Kafka's
The Trial free of some sand
 
A left margin watches the watcher from Dover
 
After the twentieth century     these cliffs
Looked like ribbons on braids or dreads
 
A dream had come right over 
With a sort of severe leakage
 
Ah love let us be true to one another
 
Went down to the ferris wheel
God's Rolodex
 
There were neon spikes around everyone 
Like the Virgin's spikes 

Old punk's mohawk     Evidence of inner fire 

Rode throwing words off     Red current     Light swearing 

Ah love The century 
Had become a little drippy at the end
 
We're still growing but the stitches hurt     Let us be 

True to one another for the world
 
Easy on the myths now 
Make it up     Sleep well

Wood's Edge

Infinity lifted: 
a gasp of emeralds.
 
I thought I felt 
the tall night trees 
between them,
 
no exactitude, 
a wait not even 
known yet.
 
I held my violet up; 
no smell. 
It made a signal squeak 
inside, bats,
 
lisps of pride;
 
ah, their little things, 
their breath: lungs of a painting,
 
they swept me 
in four ways, their square
plans, as I have made 
a good square saying,
 
you I 
you not-I 
not-you I 
not-you not-I,
 
ritual of hope 
whose weight 
has not been measured—

String Theory Sutra

There are so many types of 
“personal” in poetry. The “I” isa needle some find useful, though
the thread, of course, is shadow. 
In writing of experience or beauty,a cloth emerges as if made
from a twin existence. It's July 
4: air is full of mistakenstars & the wiggly half-zeroes stripes
make when folded into fabric meant 
never to touch ground ever again—the curved cloth of Sleeping Beauty
around 1310, decades after the spinning 
wheel gathered stray fibers in awhir of spindles before the swath
of the industrial revolution, & by 
1769 a thread stiff enough forthe warp of cotton fabric from
the spinning frame, the spinning jenny, 
the spinning "mule" or muslin wheel,which wasn't patented. By its, I
mean our, for we would become 
what we made. String theory positsno events when it isn't a
metaphor; donuts twists in matter—10 
to the minus 33 cm—itsinverted fragments like Bay Area poetry— 
numbers start the world for grown-ups 
& wobbly fibers, coaxed from eternity,are stuffed into stems of dates
like today so the way people 
are proud of their flag canenter the pipes of a 4.
Blithe astonishment in the holiday music 
over the picnickers: a man wavesfrom his spandex biking outfit, cloth
that both has & hasn't lost 
its nature. Unexpected folds are partof form where our park is
kissed by cucalyptus insect noises ^^z- 
z~ ~> crr, making that for youFlag cloth has this singing quality.
Airline pilots wear wool blend flag 
ties from Target to protect theirhearts. Women, making weavings of
unicorns in castles, hummed as they sewed 
spiral horns with thread so realit floated; such artists were visited
by figures in beyond-type garments so 
they could ask how to live.It’s all a kind of seam.
Flying shuttles, 1733, made weaving like 
experience, full of terrible accidents &progress. Flags for the present war
were made in countries we bombed 
in the last war. By we you mean they. By you it
means the poem. By it I 
mean meanings which hang tatters ofdawn’s early light in wrinkled sections of
the druid oak with skinny linguistic 
branches, Indo-European roots & theweird particle earth spirits. A voice
came to me in a dream 
beyond time: love, we are yourshadow thread ~ ~ A little owl
with stereo eyes spoke over my 
head. I am a seamstress forthe missing queen. The unicorn can’t
hear. It puts its head on 
our laps. Fibers, beauty at alow level, fabric styles, the cottage
industry of thought. Threads inspired this 
textile picnic: the satin ponytail holder,the gauze pads inside Band-Aids,
saris, threads of the basketball jersey, 
turbans, leis over pink shorts, sportsbras: A young doctor told us
—he’s like Chekhov, an atheist believer 
in what’s here —that sometimes, sittingwith his dying patients, he says,
“God bless you.” It seems to 
help somewhat. They don’t know whatcauses delays between strings—by they,
I mean the internet. Turns out 
all forces are similar to gravity.We searched for meaning ceaselessly. By
we I mean we. Sewed it 
us-wards, with flaws between strings.It seems there is no revolution
in the Planck scale. My sisters 
& I worked for the missingqueen: she said: be what you
aren’t. A paradox. There are some 
revolutions: rips in matter, the bentnots inside our fabric whirred &
barely mattered anymore. Our art 
could help take vividness to peoplebut only if they had food.
No revolution helped the workers, ever, 
very long. We worked on thisor that flag after sewing this
or that unicorn. They called Trotsky 
back from Canada. Tribes were looser thannations, nations did some good
but not so very always, & 
the types of personal in artturned & turned. Nylon parachutes in
1937. Lachesis. We shall not flag 
nor fail, wrote Churchill. O knight,tie our scarf on your neck.
There are more than two ways 
to make beauty so movements endlike sutras or horizons, somewhat frayed.
Je est un autre wrote Rimbaud 
the gun-runner. Over & inner &code. The unicorn, c’est moi. The
rips by which the threads are 
tethered to their opposites like conceptsof an art which each example
will undo. We spoke of meanings. 
I, it, we, you, he, theyam, is, are sick about America.
Colors forgive flags—red as the 
fireskirt of the goddess Asherah, white 
as the gravity behind her eye, 
blue for the horizon unbuttoned sothe next world can get through.
The “thin thread of calculable continuity” 
Santayana refers to —it’s not achoice between art & life, we
know this now, but still: How 
shall we live? O shadow thread.After the cotton workers’ lockout 1922
owners cut back sweatshop hours to 
44 per week. In string theorythe slippage between string & theory
makes air seem an invented thing 
& perhaps it is, skepticism mixedwith fear that since nothing has
singular purpose, we should not act. 
To make reality more bearable forsome besides ourselves? There’s a moment
in Southey’s journal when the tomb 
is opened & the glow-beast exits—right when the flying shuttle has
revolutionized their work—by their I 
mean our —& cut costs byhalf. So lines are cut to
continue them & if you do 
help the others, don’t tell. String theoryposits symmetry or weight. My country
’tis of installing provisional governments. 
Why was love the meaning thread.Textiles give off tiny singing no
matter what: washable rayon, airport 
carpets, checked flannel smocks of nurses,caps, pillowcases, prom sashes, & barbecue
aprons with insignias or socks people 
wear before/during sexual thrills afterdark subtitled Berkeley movies next to
t-shirts worn by crowds in raincoats. 
Human fabric is dragged out, beingis sewn with terror or awe
which is also joy. Einstein called mystery 
of existence “the fundamental emotion.”Remember? You unraveled in childhood till
you were everything. By everything I mean 
everything . The unicorn puts its headon your lap; from there it
sees the blurry edge. How am 
I so unreal & yet mythread is real it asks sleepily~~