On the Island by Lawrence Raab (American, born 1946)
After a night of wind we are surprised
by the light, how it flutters up from the back of the sea
and leaves us at ease. We can walk along the shore
this way or that, all day. Sit in the spiky grass
among the low whittled bushes, listening
to crickets, to the whisk of the small waves,
the rattling back of stones. “Observation,”
our Golden Nature Guide instructs, “is the key to science.
Look all around you. Some beaches
may be quite barren except for things washed up.”
A buoy and a blue bottle, a lightbulb
cloudy but unbroken. For an hour
my daughter gathers trinkets, bits of good luck.
She sings the song she’s just invented:
Everybody knows when the old days come.
Although it is October, today falls into the shape
of summer, that sense of languid promise
in which we are offered another
and then another spell of flawless weather.
It is the weather of Sundays,
the weather of memory, and I can see
myself sitting on a porch looking
out at water, the discreet shores
of a lake. Three or four white pines
were enough of a mystery, how they shook
and whispered, how at night I felt them
leaning against my window, like the beginning
of a story in which children must walk
deeper and deeper into a dark forest,
and are afraid, yet calm, unaware
of the arrangements made for them to survive.
My daughter counts her shells and stones,
my wife clips bayberry from the pathway. I raise
an old pair of binoculars, follow the edge of the sky
to the lighthouse, then down into the waves as they
fold around rocks humped up out of the sea.
I can turn the wheel and blur it all
into a dazzle, the pure slips and shards of light.
“A steady push of wind,” we read in the book,
“gives water its rolling, rising and falling motion.
As the sea moves up and down, the wave itself
moves forward. As it nears the shore friction
from the bottom causes it to rise higher
until it tips forward in an arc and breaks.”
On the table in front of the house
is the day’s collection: sea-glass
and starfish, a pink claw, that blue bottle—
some to be taken home, arranged in a box,
laid on a shelf, later rediscovered, later
thrown away, casually, without regret,
and some of it, even now, to be discarded,
like the lesser stones, and the pale
chipped shells which are so alike
we can agree that saving one or two will be enough.
Regular poetry reading evenings in Notting Hill, more at passonapoem