|Westport, Washington 1957 - Pondering a new concept|
|Having pondered well|
I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face, and a grey dawn breaking.
I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way, where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.
For all his civic and academic activity, he still was compelled to take a brief vacation every year, between summer and fall quarters. The family usually demanded it, even if he wanted to keep on teaching. This is when he typically allowed himself to get sick. He never took a sabbatical but taught for about 140 consecutive quarters. We typically went to the ocean. Even here—perhaps especially here—poetry remained foremost in his mind.
|On the ferry, 1959|
I walked from our cabin into the wet dawn
To see the whitecaps modulating in,
The slow wash of the word in the beginning:
Wind on the bowing sedge seemed from Japan.
A cloud of sandpipers wavered above the dune,
Where surf spoke the permanence of sun.
Back inside, I sat on my son's bed
Where he sweetly slept, guarded by saints and poets,
Oceanic sunrise on his eyelids;
I whispered "Sean, get up! It's a clamming tide,"
And thought of chill sand fresh from lowering waters,
Foam-bubbled frets across the hard-packed ridges.
"Sean, it's a zero tide!" From a still second,
He came out of the covers like a hummingbird.
"Don't wake up Julian." In the ale blue light
He dressed in whirring silence, all intent.
Along the empty coast the combers hummed:
Sleepy gulls mewled in the clearing mist.
My wife and baby slept folded in singing calm,
Involuted by love as rose or shell.
|Sister ship ahoy|
|The old heave ho|
Now, what's missing from this poem, what the reader seeking to know the real Nelson Bentley can't know from this piece, is that it was I who was doing all the actual the dirty work. While I lay in the clammy sand, up to my armpit in pursuit of a razor clam, its slippery foot-tip in my fingers, shouting for assistance with increasing irritation, my father stood fifty feet away lost in the fog of his coalescing pentameter. He sort of came to, and sauntered over looking perplexed and distracted while the wily bivalve struggled from my grasp. I did manage to catch enough clams for chowder however, and he got his poem.
|On the sunny side of the boat|
|About ten years later... on Green Lake. From a sort of puff piece the Seattle Times did on Nelson in the late 1960s.|
(Portions of this post are lifted from the talk I delivered at the University of Washington Creative Writing Program's 50th Anniversary celebration, held at Seattle's Henry Art Gallery on May 27, 1997.)