One Prolonged Blast (For Grammy)

I continue my Mother’s Day series with a reflection on my Grandmother. Joseph Campbell writes about the stages of life’s journey and draws upon the myths and stories told throughout time and cultures for illustration. Pointed Home is about telling this journey, stories and poems to understand where I have been, where I am at, and where I am going.

The summer of 1991, while overseas on summer training, my girlfriend at the time got very sick and was hospitalized for several weeks, the report was that she was in critical condition. I felt helpless. In those pre-internet days, the best I could was arrange for flowers to be sent to her via a friend. As I worried, the young officer assigned to be my running mate on the ship listened to me tell how I never wanted to be at sea when one of my family died.

The past decade has seen the loss of many of the great influences of my youth, including in 2010, my beloved grandmother. After 100 wonderful years, she finally passed away as my ship pulled out of Boston in 2010. Out at sea, I could not attend her memorial and I had failed to honor my young self’s wish. About a year later, a sailor on my next ship lost his grandmother. I invited him into my cabin and listened to him tell me about her and then give him a quiet place to get his bearings.

Later that same night, my family and I attended the double feature of the final Harry Potter movies. When Harry is preparing for his final battle with Voldemort the spirits of his dead parents and his mentor visit him while he faces his fears of this final confrontation. They tell him that he has all the strength he needs because he carries a part of them with him – it is because they loved him that he became a great wizard. It is that love that gives him the courage to face his mortal enemy.

Strange thing, fate. On that day, a sailor and Harry Potter gave me a path for healing the loss of my grandmother. A part of her remains with me today. In therapy as I struggled through the most dire moments of personal crisis, the therapist urged me to remember one person who loved my unconditionally, with whom I always felt safe and imagine a specific moment where I felt this way. I remembered sitting on the floor of her home at the foot of her chair playing and the unconditional love she always offered. I knew that she would wrap her arms around me and tell me everything would be okay, that she loved me. I wept.

When ships leave Boston, they transit through Cape Cod Bay, a refuge for what remains of the Right Whales. We have been trained to transit slowly and keep a close watch for these great creatures of the sea so as to not cause any more harm. When my Grandmother passed away, I was on my ship in Cape Cod Bay. A pod of whales surfaced very near to us. As the last one dove back into the Bay it raised its fin as if to wave goodbye.

One Prolonged Blast

4 to 6 second pull on the ship’s whistle
Announces to others in the harbor
The romance of sea:

“Underway! Shift colors”

The Ensign now flaps from the mast.
Jack folded into a tight triangle
Stowed away until:

“Moored! shift colors.”

Engines, rudder, tugs: controllable forces
Overcome uncontrolled winds and currents –
We lift from the pier into Boston Harbor.

The track followed past monuments,
The other side of the Freedom Trail,
Logan Airport, the haunts of Poe.

He thinks again,
“I will never wash the red dust of Fenway
From my white shoes.”

Into Cape Cod Bay,
He heads below
To check news from ashore

Not expecting this:
“Her suffering has come to an end, Son.
We were blessed with her 100 years.”

He chokes on his tears:
Can a ship’s Captain cry?
Returns topside to breathe.

Protected Right Whales,
Surface in every direction –
Then dive –

The last one
Raises its fin as if to say,
“Goodbye.”

Meet Again Where the Boardwalk Begins

This moment twists in on itself
A cruel freak show contortionist
Who stares agape, tear-carved
Deltas from his made up eyes.

If only it would twist into a pretzel
With lots of salt
That we’d eat with mustard.
Two kids on a boardwalk,

Gulls stalk,
Their fingers’ taffy sticky
Stuck together,
The sweetness like glue.

“Tell me everything,”
They do not see people
Beside them, counter them,
Bump them, watch them.

The ocean inside their hearts
At once calm, at once stormed.
They find their turtle shell
And build a home inside.

This moment twists
Like a contortionist:
The boardwalk ends,
Taffy shops close,

Kids depart, apart
Long enough to make up
New ocean creatures,
Aloe their sun burns.

Image: Rehoboth Beach Boardwalk, Dolles, painting by Ray Sokolowski
Rehoboth Beach Boardwalk, Dolles, prints in 3 sizes, painting by Ray Sokolowski

You’ll Never Be Alone (for Bobby)

Son
Today with oil, water and breath
I watched the priest
Open the soul of a boy
To God.

As
Mine
Was
A long time ago
And many sins past.

Now, let’s watch the gulls
Take flight from the bay
And ask them
What water tastes like in the rain
And ask them
What air feels like in the wind.

But until:
Your mother’s arms will hold you.
Strong arms.
They’ll support you wherever you fly.

I’ll be here watching the gulls
Listening to the sea’s song
Singing along with words made up
From scattered broken shells
And worn out stones
Awaiting you.

I will drip the oil
I will share my water
I will breathe for you
Until you fly back
Into my arms

And open
Up
My soul
Once again.
Son.

My reading:

Last year I ran a series of poems in response to songs by my favorite band, The National, never finishing their back-catalog. To rectify this situation, I turn to their under-rated self-titled album and perhaps their most beautiful song: “Son”. My response is dedicated to my oldest child and is titled after the line, “You’ll never be alone”.

Please enjoy.

The song:

The lyrics

Son
Songwriters: Aaron Dessner / Bryan Devendorf / Matthew Berninger / Scott Devendorf

And if you follow me, son
The wind’ll wrap around you
Carry you from the ground
You will never be alone

Your weight will turn to sunlight
That’s falling on a girl
You’re still inside the world

She’s reading books from empty women
They’re giving beauty tips from empty hips

[Chorus]
And how is the water of the rain
And how is the air of the wind
And how are the arms of your mother
She’s holding you in

Watch them as they try to fly their kites inside their bedrooms
That were only built for drinking
Your thoughts, they never lasted long when you were under the sky
Above it you can hold a thought forever

[Chorus] x2
She’s holding you in
She’s holding you in

Son lyrics © BMG Rights Management US, LLC

Notice Me, Little Things

“Notice me,”
Little things seem to say.
“Fit me,
Somewhere.”

“You will.” I think in whisper.

Tiny fragments of sea shells
Once perfect for collectors
Now inhabit the sand
Molded by the Sea
Into new perfection for this moment.
Not needing to be picked and paraded
Alongside perfect conches
Just needing to be seen
Known
For a moment.
They are smooth
With purple rings showing
That were underneath the surface
Making the structure strong,
Giving endurance,
Now they are on the surface
Stating their presence to this viewer.

I know where you will fit:
Beside me
On the sand
Among friends ground down
Not to nothing
But into earth
That holds us up.

“You do,” I whisper.

When You Lap My Feet

When you lap my feet
With your soothing song
I want to dive into your wetness
To see how deep inside our souls
I can swim.

I walk towards you step by step
Until your song drowns the noises
Life makes of other people’s living.

I could stand on your sand
Its moving foundation
Feel you slip it away from under me
And never fear a thing
Then watch the gull fly
Over your shimmering skin
Aloft in freedom
Finding inside a sustenance
That brings life
Only your deepest flesh knows.

I am briefly jealous.
Until I hear your song again
Singing for me
Alone in the surf where you end
Always giving me a loving caress
That froths as it fades
And surges up, again and again.

You deposit gifts on my earth
Broken shells and drifting weeds
Only I can see as my treasure.
Here, the smoothed rock,
A flattened stone
For me to return to you in skips
Like a man remembering his boyhood
Or a boy still dreaming of what story
You will tell when I return inside you
A love as persistent as the moon
That pulls you rising
Across the quiet of a solitude
That together we understand
As a language spoken
Throughout time for this moment
Awaiting us since the beginning.

Teak Arms

Come and nestle into the nook you chose
Along my gunwale. Rest. I wrap my teak
Arms around you to fend off night. Trace your
Legend between stars, twinkling as they do.

Today, you sacrificed ashes of life
To the Father tormenting your journey
Home. The dust will not heal your wounds or His,
But appeasement will blind him long enough –

His people invite you to the Phaeacian
Feast to hear the substance of your toils.
They lift you up on deck of their swift ship
Sail you home to the Faithful and Longing.

The planks of my own arms, softened by tears:
A bee sting, a disturbed nest on the path
Where you, child, excavated tiny stones
The earliest memory of journey

Are strong tonight – we have no place to be.
Our journey awaits the rose-red fingers
Of Dawn to wrap around your heart again
Teasing tiny sparks from dark, inspiring

Another stop, another mile of miles
To go before you sleep again in this
Nook of my gunwale where I will wrap
You, once again, safe in my soft teak arms.