Sunday, August 13, 2006

Poem for Sunday

Thoreau at Nauset
By Peter Balakian

I watched the kelp in particular,
spread on the sand
like some homespun.

Earweed, tangle, devil's-
apron, sole-leather, ribbon weed;
it's a con artist.

Umbilical in the bubbles.
Unsnarled by the tide.

When it catches the sun,
it's a budding anemone.

I took the first chance
to whittle some up.

It could've been sea-otter's-cabbage,
which can hit a hundred feet.

Strange wide softness.
Root-like holdfast.
I cut the stipe.

Felt its rubber.
Pulled apart branching stalks
and wrapped the blades'

still puffing bladders
around my wrists.

Then sun spilled like gilt
on onionskin.

With a match and small twigs
I made a small fire
to cook my clam.

Tough and sweet.
A little water and some bread,
and I'd have called it a feast.


Sat at the Charity House
till dusk.

No windows or sliding shutters.

I knelt by a knothole in the door.
Cold air moved through the straw-
stuffed clapboards.

My eye drifted in the quiet dark.
The floor was breathing.
I stood there light as hay


my skin -- a man-o'-war's
after a sculler slits it
and the ink spills out.


"At this time of year, many people go to the shore: because it is cool, because there are good things to do and eat there, and because there is something fascinating about the ocean and the things that live in it or near it," writes Robert Pinsky in Poet's Choice in Sunday's Washington Post Book World. Balakian, explains Pinsky, wrote this poem by rearranging some of Henry David Thoreau's words from Cape Cod. "The poem represents Thoreau's peculiar character, and through that personality the scene also suggests a particular state of mind, perhaps universal, where the mind is somehow both concentrated and relaxed," says Pinsky. "The writer here is both alert and still: kneeling by a knothole in the dark beachfront charity house, feeling 'light as hay' and 'dilating' in some tactile way...that quiet, rapt attention has a lot to do with writing: The sunlight spills like 'gilt/ on onionskin' -- which I take to mean both the actual skin of an onion and the thin paper named after it. And Balakian's final line, again using the verb 'spill,' brings Thoreau's astringent kind of whimsy to the writer's urge or need to write."

I am still not at my sister's, but at a hotel in Connecticut somewhere between there and Mystic. My sister and her husband had longstanding plans to go out tonight and we decided not to risk exposing the kids to her daughter while she may still be contagious, so we're going to go to the aquarium ourselves tomorrow morning and however many of them meet us there will be fine, even if none of them end up coming! In any case I think we will stay there tomorrow night unless her daughter's fever goes up again; she said it was down today. Anyone know how long someone stays contagious with Coxsacki? I really do not want to expose my son to anything so close to the Bar Mitzvah (am pretty sure younger son had the virus but none of the rest of us have).

Since we knew early this morning that we were not rushing up to see the relatives and do something in New York this evening, we took our time getting up here and took the kids swimming. Then we discovered Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban on HBO, followed by Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which we watched around dinner (chili and cheese in the hotel since we had a suite, cheap and easy), getting the kids into the bath and all that.

Manhattan skyline from the stretch of I-95 between the New Jersey Turnpike and the George Washington Bridge.

A stretch of Meadowlands parallel to the city. No egrets today that I saw.

A blimp over the Empire State Building! Well, actually the blimp appeared to be circling far outside midtown Manhattan, but it looks like it's over the building, which is cool. See how the relative position of the black high-rise in relation to the Empire State Building changes from the photo above to this one? It's that sort of perspective making this possible.

Last time we took this trip, I took photos of the cell phone tree near the Merritt Parkway and the Delaware Memorial and George Washington bridges. This time I got only this photo of the GW bridge, despite a spectacular clear view of Manhattan, because of the sign at right.

Early night tonight as we have a date with a penguin tomorrow. Hope everyone's having as gorgeous a weekend as we have here -- temperatures in the 70s! Whoo! Did anyone see the Perseids -- we seem to be in an area with too much light! Or maybe it's the moon just past full. *makes werewolf howling noise*

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