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Posts Tagged ‘vacation’

At a rest stop somewhere along the Ohio Turnpike:

poem rests on travel brochures, center of the picture

 

Vacation

by Wendell Berry

Once there was a man who filmed his vacation.
He went flying down the river in his boat
with his video camera to his eye, making
a moving picture of the moving river
upon which his sleek boat moved swiftly
toward the end of his vacation. He showed
his vacation to his camera, which pictured it,
preserving it forever: the river, the trees,
the sky, the light, the bow of his rushing boat
behind which he stood with his camera
preserving his vacation even as he was having it
so that after he had had it he would still
have it. It would be there. With a flick
of a switch, there it would be. But he
would not be in it. He would never be in it.
Poet Wendell Berry (b. 1934) is an interesting fellow and prolific writer. Link here for more details. The short version:  he’s a poet, novelist, essayist, environmental activist but not wholly a traditional one, and full-time farmer. He was friends with fellow Kentuckian Thomas Merton, the famous monk who wrote Seven Story Mountain. 

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There’s a sad nip in the air this morning, a reminder to get the rest of my summer beach posts up before they’re as out-of-date as puka shells and jellies.

I count myself among the most fortunate of souls that I got to return to Maryland this summer to spend a week at the beach with my family. There’s much to love–blue crabs, Fractured Prune doughnuts, steak-and-cheese subs, the stifling, warms-the-soul humidity inescapable on the Delmarva peninsula. And of course the accent. A week gives me just enough time to re-claim it. Unfortunately by the time I hit the Ohio Turnpike on my way back to Michigan I’ve already lost it. So I’ve titled this post to honor the beautiful way Marylanders speak the English language. (If you’ve never had the pleasure of hearing it, link here to enjoy how we say “o’s” and here for an exaggerated version of common Maryland expressions.)

On with post. I had snippets of poems–by that I mean I snipped a few lines out of longer poems–that referenced the ocean, and I put them all over Bethany Beach one afternoon while on a boardwalk outing with a few nieces and a nephew.

I left the opening lines of  “Here With Your Memory” by Alejandro Murguía on a fence post next to some mismatched beach shoes.

poem is on fence next to shoes

The brooding, windy weather was just right for this one:

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(The poem is not on line and is too long for me to type out, at least at this moment. If I feel less lazy when I finish this post, I’ll type it out at the bottom.)

I gave my nieces, Sophia and Georgie, a single line from Keats’ “Endymion” to hold because the wind was blowing everything this way and that, and because they are beauties, even though Sophia is uncharacteristically scowling.

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These two have since returned to Ecuador with a piece of my heart. (A good time to welcome to my sister Josie’s Ecuadorian students. Hello to all and thanks for reading Poem Elf! Good luck this year.)

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The joy beauty gives may be forever, but beauty itself is ephemeral, so I asked Sophia to let the piece of paper blow away. See it in the bottom right of the photo.

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Still, I have faith in Keats’ words that follow this line–“it will never pass/into nothingness.” You can see the paper, just above the dune grass in the dead center of the picture, on its way to places unknown.

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You can read the complete poem here.

On a storage shed for umbrella rentals I left a famous bit from Yeats’ “The Second Coming”:

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It’s a poem that always seems horribly relevant, but perhaps never as much as in these times.

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Link to the complete poem here.

And finally, at our favorite store, the ubiquitous Candy Kitchen, I left “A Modest Love” by Elizabethan poet Sir Edward Dyer. My sister Susie, long-time president of the Candy Club, sits surrounded by this bunch of beggars. The poem is behind her on the door, just above little Emily’s pink hair flower.

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I love these lines so much I’m using them as the epigraph for the novel I’m working on.

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Link to the complete poem here.

Speaking of love and sweet beach treats, my niece Emily told me she does not like caramel corn. She seems downright hostile to it. But not little Georgie:

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Okay, I’ve decided I owe it to Murguía to type out his poem. The longing and nostalgia here is something I’m feeling now as I sit at my desk in Michigan, remembering summers of long ago at the beach, and one summer in particular with a red-haired boy who lives with me now.

(I’ve posted one of Murguía’s poems in the past–link here.)

Here With Your Memory

by Alejandro Murguía

Today I sat down pensive

staring at the sea

pinned like a prisoner

to another day

curled up

made a conch

by all fecund things you are

on this earth and in the sea

the cry of seagulls

the clouds like a reflection of the water

the sky like your caress that June day

of which the only thing left is this moment

these seconds when you surge again

out of the sea

your bathing suit pure foam

splendid, young mermaid

with bronzed arms

hair the color of burnt sand

woman made of spells, aquatic flowers

of earth, mountains, herbs

made into poems

because we were together that afternoon

and were transformed into calendars

where the days always return

with their same destinies

the same lovers and enemies as always

only you and I

because we were

a gush of water, music,

the ruby of a kiss

falling into the depths

where across all the years

we see each other

as we were that day

poor and in love with the whole world.

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poem is on ramp railing

poem is on ramp railing

Alba

by Jack Gilbert

 

After a summer with happy people,

I rush back, scared, gulping

down pain wherever I can get it.

 

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I don’t like all my nicknames, but I can’t say I don’t deserve them. Debbie Downer is the one I earned for introducing grit to conversations of spun sugar. And one I continue to earn. At Bethany Beach in Delaware, the “Quiet Resort,” as they call it, a family beach town where I’ve spent many happy week, I left Jack Gilbert’s “Alba” for all the happy people to read coming or going to the beach.

 

 

A little salt in the sugar.

 

It’s such a lovely little poem, I hate to associate it with something nasty, but an incident at the beach comes to mind as I write. On the Bethany boardwalk, I passed a young man in a “Mein Kampf” t-shirt. A teenage girl walking past, a girl accompanied by her mother, called out, “Hey, I like your t-shirt.” Silly kids, infuriatingly ignorant kids. But considering them in the light of this poem, I wonder if they throw ugliness out into the world for the same reason the speaker in the poem gulps down pain. The happy faces surrounding them feel less real than the turmoil they feel inside.

 

Or maybe Mein Kampf is a popular rock band, what do I know.

 

If “Alba” seems familiar, you may be remembering Ezra Pound’s poem of the same name:

 

As cool as the pale wet leaves
           of lily-of-the-valley
She lay beside me in the dawn.

 

An “alba” is a short poem, often three lines, that describes the longing of lovers who have to part in the morning so their spouses won’t discover their tryst. I had never heard of the alba lyric till I wondered why Gilbert titled his poem as he did. Now I look at the poem in another light: the speaker “cheats” on his melancholy with happy people. But unlike traditional lovers in an alba poem, he seems eager to return to his spouse.

 

Jack Gilbert is one of my favorites. I’ve written about him before, so I’ll just copy his bio from an earlier post:

 

Poet Jack Gilbert lived outside the mainstream as well. He was born in Pittsburgh in 1925. He failed out of high school, and worked as an exterminator until he was mistakenly accepted to the University of Pittsburgh because of a clerical error. He spent the 1960s in San Francisco but didn’t drink or do drugs. All his life he was a traveler. He spent many years in Europe, living simply and touring as a lecturer on literature for the State Department.

Gilbert didn’t publish much and didn’t give many public readings. He published his first book in 1962 and his second twenty years later in 1982. He died last November at age 87.

Gilbert seems to have had a big appetite for life, but little for fame. In a Paris Review interview when he was 80, Gilbert speaks about what was important to him:

“Being alive is so extraordinary I don’t know why people limit it to riches, pride, security—all of those things life is built on. People miss so much because they want money and comfort and pride, a house and a job to pay for the house. And they have to get a car. You can’t see anything from a car. It’s moving too fast. People take vacations. That’s their reward—the vacation. Why not the life? Vacations are second-rate. People deprive themselves of so much of their lives—until it’s too late. Though I understand that often you don’t have a choice.”

 

Words to ponder as I return from the beach.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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