Far from the ocean, walking beside my house I sense the coast

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Far from the ocean, walking beside my house I sense the coast

1.
Far from the ocean, walking beside my house, I sense the closeness
Of salt and seafood, cigarettes in beach sand, the smell of dunes.

Things had been going like this, I’ve been woken up in the spring blackness
By other springs, springs long gone or a spring out of place

Or just a piece of spring, like peonies from the garden of my first years
Of being a parent showing up near the bird bath in the backyard

Of the family house on Cape Cod when I was twelve. The wind coming from anywhere
To that yard smelled like the dunes and the sea and it never smelled like rain

Even when it was raining. These mountains have long felt like home but
Never smelled like it.

2.
The clouds are running fast overhead,
Running as if they are late to a specific appointment a few atmospheres
Over, dropping hailstones on an afternoon wedding on the coast
Or sliding smoothly behind a grove of pines at sunset
That reminds a stranger of a time before her wings dissolved.

But moving so swiftly, running so fast they change
Into shapes no longer proper for where they were going
And they hang there, hours later, in mid-air,
Fraught with loss of what they will never do,
Not knowing they are struck momentarily with light like fire in exactly
The style of a 19th century landscape in oils, a technique then borrowed
by my grandfather and painted on canvas in the third year of my life:

A slow fire over a New England field and solitary oak tree
And a few cypress trees growing slowly like ignored children
In the background at hill’s edge, where all my life I have imagined standing
Waiting for it all to move.

3.
In a closet in my mind
Above the jackets I no longer have to keep
Because I’ve buried everyone I need a jacket to bury
And I never actually wore those jackets

On that shelf in a closet in my mind I found a bomb
Ticking its way down to zero
I was looking for a love letter
I had never sent. Instead this thing
Vibrating in my hands.

I had not thought of myself as that destructive.

Your earth is sailing away from me, here on this satellite of rock,
Decomposing with each circuit around the heavenly body.
My only true virtue is my patience:
I wait until you are beyond the strength of my reach
To lob this beating thing.

4.
I made a smoothie for the goddess of death.
This translation from dreams is a tricky thing, I said,
I may have gotten a few ingredients wrong.
For heart I might have dropped in my father’s arteries,
For constitution the rusting stents that held

The gateways of blood open. I drank most of the wine
So only a few drops got into the mix but I took steps
On the bottle and added these lovely green shards.
I set the blender too low as I threw in the names

Of the people I’ve disappointed because the
Grinding sound reminded me of my mom’s mind’s wheels
Mis-gearing over and over for seven years and it comforted me
To think you had to wait that long for someone so strong.
Elsewhere I was just acting on a hunch as good chefs do.
For example it’s not good to eat broken hearts

Without a lot of salt. People need time to relax and socialize
With you. I’m done with this fight-or-flight impulse. It takes a long time
To pour this damn thing. Sit down and let’s watch together.

5.
Far from the ocean, walking beside my house.
I can hear the peonies muffled like the kidnapped

Right before the hero comes in to save them.
And like them, when they are free the peonies will have

Forgotten what was so urgent to say. And their gratitude
Will unfold in every direction for anyone with eyes to see.

6.
Between blades of grass in the backyard far from the bay
blue wildflowers surface like a body of water on a map. Knee deep
In low tide on Cape Cod I could see my teenage self split in two
Shadows, one on the surface of the water and one on the
Scalloped sand below. I was different shapes of myself even

In a single moment, that each of my friends that summer
Saw a different silhouette of me. One they still see
In memories, stacked fresh like the fish in cold storage houses
After which the beach was named. The beach of my childhood

is a real place, after all, wet as water
With a name that’s no metaphor though sometimes a name
Like a tide pulls back some of the present as it goes
And pushes some of the past into the future. Which is to say

When a cloud ran quickly overhead the sun made it
Seem as if a tree had suddenly appeared in silhouette along
The grass, and its leaves were blue flowers. And when the next
Cloud came and the tree disappeared, it was no surprise.
I’ll remember it both ways.

7.
Clouds gather around the mountain
Like seagulls around a junkyard.

Spring clouds can be scanned across the sky like syllables
In a sorry sonnet. The rain is real, the rest is reflection.

Far from the ocean, walking beside my house I sense the coast,
I am at the edge of things surging and things pulling back,

Like lying for hours in the pit of night pulling a blanket over
My head to try to sleep only to wake up and realize it was

A dream of sleeplessness. Waking to the sleepwalking death toll
Taking one more step. Waiting for the season to pass like a cloud

And to share the smell of salt and sand on a crowded beach.
To be stronger than these thousand words.

4 thoughts on “Far from the ocean, walking beside my house I sense the coast

  1. Lynne Burnett

    I was hypnotized, entranced by the cadence, the repetitions (“far from the ocean” etc), the pull of thought “waves”. So many beautiful lines/images! Just so you know, I’m normally impatient with long poems (are we there yet?) but this one, Jeff, I didn’t want to end – each line effortlessly carried me to the next and look where I’ve landed – on the shores of time and memory, haunted by the surprising last line “To be stronger than these thousand words”. Thank you!

    Reply
    1. Jeff Schwaner Post author

      Thank you, Lynne. This has been a furlough week for me, so a lot flowed into that poem. I am glad something of value flowed out of it. The only thing I was sure about was that it indeed has exactly a thousand words, counting the title.

      Reply

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