Two Poems of the Beach

August 1, 2010

My dog Calvin on the beach at Oak Island, NC

I’ve been on vacation this past week on the North Carolina Coast.

Oak Island is one of the south-facing islands that are not part of the more famous Outer Banks and neither as far south nor as celebrated as Myrtle Beach.

We like it there because it is quiet and sleepy in an old-fashioned way.  It is a far drive from Philadelphia, but these days you need to go pretty far to get far away.

Being on the beach reminded me of two poems I wrote about other Atlantic Coastal vacations, back in the early 90s.

The first, “Gleanings,” was written in Ocean Grove, New Jersey, and appeared in an anthology called “Under a Gull’s Wing: Poems and Photographs of the Jersey Shore.” It was written for two old friends, Jim Supplee and Diane Stiglich:

“Gleanings”

Look at the two of them, bent

to the early morning tide.

They cull glass from the sandy surf.

Strange and wonderful alchemists,

who search for the elusive blue

of medicine bottles, caressing

emerald imitators from “Old Latrobe,”

or amber sea urchins

left there like whelks at low tide.

They discard broken bits of crockery,

forsaken like jetsam of the sands.

Beach glass is opaque

with a false clarity:

Polished by sand and sea,

the edges don’t cut

like our lives, lived elsewhere,

out beyond the last sandbar,

where plate tectonics rule the waves.

The second poem was written down the coast a bit in Chincoteague, Virginia.   Chincoteague is famous for its wild horses and for its mosquitoes.   But I chose a couple of other focal points in my poem “Spartina,” which later appeared in the magazine Philadelphia Stories:

“Spartina”

Herring gull dragged from the cordgrass by a bay cat,
who drops the sputtering gull under a tree.

The gull’s left wing and leg are broken — right wing thrashing,
body turning round a point, compass tracing a circle.

Wild chorus of gulls tracing the same circle in salt haze
only wider, concentric, thirty feet overhead.

The cat lying down in shade, making furtive stabs,
powerful paws slapping down motion.

The cat’s feral, calico-covered muscles ebb and shudder
in the bay breeze. She is Spartina, waving in wind or water.

Now she yawns indelicately, fur and feathers
lofting on the incoming tide.

The gull plants his beak in the sand,
tethered, like all of us, to fate.

–Scott Edward Anderson

##

I hope your vacation plans take you to a coast somewhere.  “The sea is a cleanser,” as a good friend wrote to me recently.

Let’s hope that’s true, for the sake of the Gulf Coast.

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