from Quoddy Journal, 2006
“Go to the pine if you want to learn about pine….”—Basho
“[Keep] a small memorandum-book in the breast-pocket, with its well-cut
sheathed pencil, ready for notes on passing opportunities….”— John Ruskin,
The Elements of Drawing, 1857
Young woman enters the office of the Mollynocket Motel, seeking a room for beau and
self. This in West Paris, Maine, just north of Poland and Norway, east of Sweden and
Denmark, but south of Peru and Mexico. Manager seated at the desk looks up, takes her
measure, notices the glitter-flecked letters blazoned across her tee-shirt:
“New…York…City,” he exclaims, emphasizing each word!
“No,” she replies. “I ain’t from there….But I been there.”
Constellations of dew
on window screens.
on invisible filaments just outside,
stages a tap dance
to fog horn accompaniment.
Cha-cha. Cha. Cha. Cha.
Slate gray bank of cloud drawn across the horizon
at which scalloped edge the newly risen sun winks.
Bangor Daily News:
“The Brady Gang came to Maine in the fall of 1937 for the same reasons 21st century
criminals venture north of Boston—seafood, foliage, and guns.”
Guns? Ah, but the road sign later passed on coastal Route 1 helps to explain:
“I just had to jot down these fleeting things . . . a rapid notation in watercolor and
pencil: an informal daubing of contrasting colors, tones, and hues”—Henri-Edmond
Cross, American artist (1856 – 1910).
Dull pewter morning sky,
Oilcloth spread over harbor,
tucked in at shoreline;
salt and peppershaker buoys set upon it
beside toy boats painted primary colors;
hump-backed island at harbor’s mouth
in shape of an overturned ladle.
fill the narrow channel
between shore and the island
with its comb of firs.
edges weed-wigged rocks
bordering a field
where sheep graze,
while sparrows and starlings
hop and peck among
clumps of close-cropped grass
peppered with droppings.
Screeching gulls strafe the yard,
then settle on green stained
tarpaper roof of the slouching,
lichen crusted chicken coop.
One fidgets, tucks its wings,
fixes its flinty gaze
on the dory flaking paint, turned turtle.
…violation of scallop rule, $250
…hand fishing sea urchin without license, $500
…negotiating worthless instrument, $150
…violation of marine worm rule, $250
…failing to kindle in prudent manner, $100
—Machias District court cases, Bangor Daily News
The sea twice daily
insinuates its tongue
between the muddy banks
of this inlet
fringed with damp grasses.
Sudden wind beneath
a darkening sky
in orderly ranks
that charge the shore.
Shudders ripple through cattails
rooted in a ditch;
pelting rain follows,
bending them double.
Sky now brightening,
a lone figure
gray cape, yellow leggings,
stalks field and shoreline
assessing the carnage.
Field Note: Sturnus vulgarus
Little old men out of 19th century Russian novels (by Guncharov? Gogol?),
wearing dark, ash-flecked greatcoats,
bent at the waist, heads down,
hands folded behind backs,
pace the length and breadth of this yard
searching for lost thoughts
among grass blades, sheep droppings.
Fisherman stacking traps on the wharf,
greasy haired, unshaven, grimy with sweat,
stands stock-still in muck crusted waders
his eyes fixed on the
candy apple red painted toenails
of a woman in Bermuda shorts
transacting the purchase
of lobsters for her dinner.
No remnant of the customhouse
at Customhouse Beach,
but countless multicolored,
glass and pottery shards.
Also one rust crusted
V-6 engine block,
minus pistons, rods,
manifolds, et cetera—
object of fascination
to my teenage son
nostalgia for a
past he never knew.
“He would frequently stop in his tracks to make slight sketches in pencil in a small book
which he always carried in his pocket and then pass on, always suspicious that if he
stopped too long to look in one direction the most beautiful thing of all might pass him by
at his back.”—Worthington Whittredge described the American artist Sanford Robinson
Gifford’s (1823 –1880) manner of working.
5 AM Sacramental Landscape
Old Testament night of thunder, lightning, hail,
and biblical downpours.
Now dawn arrives,
startling as the risen Christ
in Grunewald’s painting,
Shimmering golden platter
rests on the white muslin
spread across the bay,
reflection of the dazzling
now arm’s-length above the horizon.
With apologies to C.D. Wright
Every year the poem I most want to write, the poem that might in effect allow me to
stop writing, stands at the edge of a field shrouded in mist—human apparition or tree
misshapen by harsh elements. If I invite it to sit beside me on the porch, it takes a
tentative step forward, pulling fog’s hem with it, then retreats. The field between us is
grown up in thigh-high grasses, wildflowers, thistles, pink beach roses with yellow
centers. Closer, the mown lawn is flecked with white clover florets and green blades wet
with dew. A foghorn blasts at regular intervals; clanking buoy keeps time. Lupines have
given way to Black-eyed Susans in the rock edged garden. Smell of strong back coffee
mixes with pine scent and salt sea air, for it is always August, Maine, a simple pine box
cottage with clean lines and wrap around porch, overlooking tidal marsh, sandbar, bay.
No coaxing will entice the poem to inhabit its form, step across the distance, occupy the
seat beside me. And if I should get up to approach it, hand extended, the poems backs
away, shape-shifts, vanishes into the haze.
Car with Maine plates driving coastal Route 1, sporting bumper sticker:
“Go Renovate Boston.
We Like Maine Just The Way It Is.”