Surveying a surface… - We begin to write with a sense of urgency that what comes to us in words must be captured before it slips away. Later, after struggling with all that is required – necessary? – To transform, translate, re-form, recast…, make what we have taken down into something…. We turn leery, reluctant – Is this … Continue reading Surveying a surface… Diving in… - A while back – well, by now a long time ago – I found a series of notebooks. Well, I don’t know for sure if they were a series or different sets or even if they were written by different people. What I can say is that they were written in a singular hand. … Continue reading Diving in…
a novel of Provincetown
…We had again sight of the land, which made ahead, being as we thought an island, …we called it Shoal Hope. Near this cape we came to anchor in fifteen fathoms, where we took great store of codfish, for which we altered the name, and called it Cape Cod.
Gabriel Archer’s journal of Bartholomew Gosnold’s voyage, 1602.
“Giving up on all optimism and pessimism, one is free to be courageous; one places no trust in tools and instruments; one comes to hope based on human beings.”
One - Shafts of light tremble in the darkness between pilings. Patches of eelgrass loom, looking like holes in the bright, yellow sand. Foot-wide starfish quiver, as though painted on the underside of ripples. Moon-snails wander at the heads of meandering trails, a bulge of sand curling off each side like the wake of a steam … Continue reading One Two - Hunched over in the lee of the deck coaming Antone’s back rests against the forward bulkhead. The sun full on his face. Out of the breeze. A cloth-cap crammed on his head. Ear-muffs push his ears out. Tips bent at right angles. A short grizzle of beard thickens into a buzz-cut. Hair a more … Continue reading Two Three - Nellie & Mary passes the tip of Long Point, the end of a spiral of sand that turns and turns in on itself. Below the high tide mark its sand banks stand like yellowed sandstone. Like the walls of an eroded pyramid, they fight the ages; withstand erosion; and make nonsense of the angle … Continue reading Three Four - “All right, git on up the’ah!” Joe C points. Stevie’s already shimmying up the nearest pile. His bare feet grasp each knot on the smooth, bark-less pole. A bulky coil of tarred hemp draped over his right shoulder, heading for a block hanging from its skinny top. Five - From fifty yards out, signs of the catch are hard to see. Heading North, light lingers in the sky to port. Reflections of the western horizon stain the water ahead. The afternoon breeze has died with the sunset. The old chop fades away. Waves lengthen into the shallow undulation of a rippling a skin, … Continue reading Five
Six - Antone’s last communion followed not long after his first. This was back on Pico. A lad of seventeen, apprenticed to a woodcutter. Madly in love with his dark-eyed Maria. Dazzled by vistas of open ocean. The grand circling horizon beckoned him toward the setting sun. My future set. Work hard. Tend the stony fields … Continue reading Six Seven - It made Antone nervous to be in his home waters again. His dread, his version of Saudade, that wistful, painful, Portuguese nostalgia. Antone was forty-two when a whaler brought him back to Pico. Breathing the same air, watching serried clouds and mid-ocean waves break against its terraced peak, dredged up painful memories. Wild Hydrangea dotting … Continue reading Seven Eight - The whaleboat crew lounge at a long table by the window out of Antone’s sight. They’ve had a head-start. Corvo called for three bottles of Aguardente, clapping down a bright silver dollar on the bar, as soon as they arrived. Two bottles down. Three of Corvo’s boys sprawl with their heads against the stone … Continue reading Eight
Nine - Sally Small’s farm sits in a hollow up on the Highlands between Pilgrim Spring and High Head. Low, wood-shake roofs stand level with the surrounding moorland. Her grandfather Samuel settled by the old stage route where it dropped onto the dunes to get around East Harbor. Traffic goes by the Beach Point Road now. Ten - “Cap’n-a-been-at-the-wheel all night & most of the day a’fo’ah that.” Pauly says. “Sat the’ah quiet…. Not said nothin since we left the Banks…. The hold only ha’hlf full…” Eleven - Stevie’s perched on the edge of his bunk. The image of Pauly’s schooner floating before his eyes. The others, restless after the long gam, mill around the cramped focs’le. Twelve - Walking fast, hunched forward, hands deep in his trouser pockets. Snow falling in big flat flakes out of a pewter sky, Feels like dusk. Still early afternoon. A cap of snow, accumulates on his hair. Slips forward. Stevie’s footsteps, resound in his ears, Scrunch-squish, breaking through a crust of frozen sand, Quiet. No wind. … Continue reading Twelve Thirteen - Stevie loses track of why he’s out here. No thought for the future. Thinking of nothing at all. The wind behind, Not cold. No icy fingers probing at his neck, between the buttons of his coat. His exaggerated gait, Only way to walk in snow on sand. Generates enough heat to make him comfortable. … Continue reading Thirteen
Fourteen - “It’s all about truth! I mean….” Thick fog drips off wires fizzing overhead. Cones of bright mist beneath each street lamp. An ivory glow. “If you put down the big notes as you see ‘em.” Fog alternates with a fine drizzle, swirling around enameled reflectors capping clear, blown-glass bulbs. “Doesn’t matter about the rest.” … Continue reading Fourteen Fifteen - Roosters crow through the fog in his head, Just now? Hours ago? Rolling over, pulling a beat-up pillow over his eyes, he pictures the world outside still wreathed in vapor as it was last night. Pulling himself up against the headboard, the reflection of clear blue sky shines on the walls and ceiling, … Continue reading Fifteen Sixteen - Flushed, flustered, Albert walks too fast. Sidesteps off the street to avoid a horse cart. Yells over his shoulder, “Hey!” Looking the wrong way, he collides with a pedestrian, “Oomph! Sorry!” “Albert?” Seventeen - Smothered in a tangle of rambling rose, half buried in drifting sand, a low fence cuts across Albert’s path. Chipped-white pickets hide behind brambles. A tall post oozes creosote, An open gate. Eroded by the light, Dissolved in glare. A dark sliver stabbing the sky.
Eighteen - “Always foolishness!” Francisco spits his words out past a plug of chaw wedged in his cheek. A sloppy grin on his face. Gap-toothed gums hidden beneath a bushy gray mustache. A stubbled chin. Red-and-black-plaid wool shirt. Sleeves rolled up. Bulging, muscular forearms. Ever-wet hands.
Nineteen - Peter scuttles forward on hands and knees. Eyes watering from the wind. A steep bay-chop arrives in echelon. Waves slam under the daysailer’s long, low spoon-bow. Spray cascades across her narrow foredeck. Twenty - Trapped in a cellar, or a dungeon. It’s dark, cramped. I follow a narrowing upwards path. Can’t get through. Up ahead I can see light and air. Push! Too tight. Keep pushing. Try to get my face through. Ears. An arm. I wake with a shudder. Twenty-one - Albert slaps a quarter down on the counter. Swivels on his stool. A half-chewed toothpick in his mouth. “Thanks!” The soda-man replies, “Thank you!” Crossing a dozen steps to the door and onto the street, “Gotta get Peter to agree.” Twenty-two - Peter’s shack stands at the foot an abbreviated wharf cut off just beyond the high-tide mark. Albert heads to the privy. Lantern-glow filters through a tattered curtain. A rough plank bench with an oval hole. A Sears & Roebuck Catalog nailed to the wall. Flimsy, foolscap pages flutter in a steady breeze rising … Continue reading Twenty-two Twenty-three - Dyer launched the sloop, running her down his spindly marine-railway. Tied alongside his wharf. She grounds out for nearly half of every tide. A good thing, considering how slow she is to make up. Become a vessel holding out the sea. Not a sieve letting the tide rise inside as well as out.
Twenty-four - The trap-boat Charlotte motors past Long Point. Stevie sits on the engine box. Thick overcast. Low cloud-bottoms rush past. A rain squall shuts off the view. A cold wind buffets his ears. Lulled by engine noise and vibration. Its warmth rises through the rough boards under him. His eyes water. The abrupt change … Continue reading Twenty-four
Twenty-five - It was like the reel for an old-fashioned kite-string. A hand line looked like a small ladder with only two rungs. Side pieces held two six inch dowel rungs about a foot apart wound with thirty fathoms of tarred linen cord. A sash-weight hung from the line. A tubular ingot of cast-iron weighing … Continue reading Twenty-five
Twenty-six - Antone stirs. Curled up under a corner of canvas in a broken-down shed on a short wharf damaged in the Portland Gale, Rained during the night. Dawn breaks bright, clean, clear. Sunlight pierces the wall, shining-in between brittle cedar shingles, pouring through empty nail holes. Hits him squarely in the eye, Another day.
Something for Nothing…
He died on a field in Lorraine where at the end of the day – August 20, 1914, – nothing was visible but corpses strewn in rows and sprawled in awkward attitudes of sudden death as if the place had been swept by a malignant hurricane. It was one of those lessons, a survivor realized afterward,”… By which God teaches the Law to Kings.”
Barbara Tuchman, The Guns of August
If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.
The Gospel of Thomas
Twenty Seven - Actæon’s log: Actæon schoons, taking a hard northwesterly blow on her starboard quarter. I’ve been at the helm for a day and two nights. We were caught in a blinding snowstorm rounding Cape Cod. Running hard, decks awash. This morning the Gulf Stream is beginning to melt a thick crust of ice high into her … Continue reading Twenty Seven Twenty Eight - Actæon’s log: Actæon schoons. A hard northwesterly blow on her starboard quarter. At the helm for a day and two nights. A blinding snowstorm rounding Cape Cod. Sailing, decks awash. The Gulf Stream beginning to dissolve a crust of ice. The port rail clear. A thick coating reaches far up her starboard side. Ice high … Continue reading Twenty Eight
Twenty Nine - Splash. Splash. Oars…. Dammit! Skilly didn’t have enough time… The sound passes close and recedes. I light a cigarette off the tail of the last one. Drop the butt into a bottle. Half a dozen others stain an inch of warm, stale lemonade. Color of bloody piss. The knot in my stomach tightens another … Continue reading Twenty Nine Thirty - “Old man beat us, all of us. Even d’a dog. Mama? He put so many of us babies on her she died young. Younger d’an I am now.” She sits up straight. “When she died. D’a whole t’ing fell apa’rt. I never saw him again. I was old’ah. The old’est. Some o’ mama’s … Continue reading Thirty