National Poetry Month 2017, Week Two: “Dark Harbour” by Alison Hawthorne Deming
April 14, 2017
For several years our friend, the poet Alison Hawthorne Deming, told us about Grand Manan Island off the coast of New Brunswick, Canada. Alison is a long-time summer resident on Grand Manan.
We finally made it up there last summer – and were we glad we did.
To say the island is a special place is a bit of a cliché and certainly doesn’t do the island justice. But then, when is a cliché not mostly true?
Remote and fairly difficult to get to from New York – you drive to the edge of Maine and keep going — Grand Manan sits on the western end of the mouth of the Bay of Fundy and was formed by colliding plates. You can see the fault line where Triassic and Cambrian rock meets.
Here time is marked by arriving and departing ferries, dramatic in-coming and out-going tides, and when the herring is running. The landscape is rugged basalt and a dense forest of birch and conifers, with pockets of wetlands, marshes, and rocky cliffs all formed and deformed by the sea, salt spray, and wind.
One evening before sunset, Alison took us over the top of the island to the other side, to Dark Harbour, a place that seemed somewhat stuck in time. I felt a bit like an intruder, although the place was oddly familiar as well, surrounded by encroaching darkness. There are rumors of pirates or a pirate curse in Dark Harbour.
Dark Harbour is also the dulse capital of the world. Dulse is an edible seaweed harvested by hand at low tide and dried in the sun outside during the summer months. Grand Mananers love their dulse, which seems a healthy substitute for chewing tobacco or potato chips. Dulsers are a special breed, as this video from Great Big Story attests: http://www.greatbigstory.com/stories/dulser-dark-harbor
Several poems in Alison’s new book of poems, STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN, feature the people and landscape of Grand Manan. There are echoes in these poems of another Canadian Maritime setting by another poet from New England with Maritime ties, something about the cold and crystal clear water, a quiet observation and an older way of life, the dark forest and the sea.
We’re going back this summer.
Here is Alison Hawthorne Deming’s poem, “Dark Harbour”:
Dulse camps teeter on cobbled basalt
where storms have heaped a seawall
topped with tumult of silvered
wharf timbers and weir stakes
enough driftwood scrap to salvage for a shack
paint the battered door dusty blue.
A rusty slatted bed kerosene pooled
in a glass-chimney lamp waiting for a match
dirty teapot on the camp stove
it’s home for a night or two
when tides are right for gathering.
Stone slips wait gray and smooth from wear
where yellow dories are winched and
skidded to motor offshore headed
for the dulsing ground. A man
who works the intertidal shore
says I can smell the tide coming in.
I raise my face to the wind to try to catch
what he knows. Cold and crystal clear
the water laps the rocks and rattles them
as it recedes. The man pulls fistful
of purple weed off tide-bare rocks
a gentle rip sounding with each pull
the ribbons gathered in his basket
dark as iodine deep as hay scythed
and piled in ricks harvest picked by hand
gathered from the transmutation of light
that sways at high tide like hair in the wind
and lies still for combing when the tide recedes
cropland where sea and rock do the tillage.
–Alison Hawthorne Deming
c) 2016 Alison Hawthorne Deming. Used by permission of the author.