Are you out there?
Are you okay?
Good night then.
Are you out there?
Are you okay?
Good night then.
My grandpa was a net man. Never mind how well I knew him. Never mind how often I saw him. Never mind how much I loved him. The point is that he used rope, wove nets with his hands, hands I loved so much I never knew how to say it.
My grandpa was a net man, a talker and a storyteller. His life was woven with stories as much as it was with rope. He told the stories in his deep, rich, southern voice, a voice I loved so much I never knew how to say it. He talked about picking rows of cotton as a farm boy in Georgia during the Great Depression. He talked about walking down to the bar to sling his drunk mother over his shoulder and carry her home. He talked about WW2, how a bomb came down the ship’s smokestack, how he was sent to pick up body parts and stuff them into a bag.
But mostly he talked about his shrimp boat and the Gulf of Mexico. He talked about Campeche, Veracruz, Havana, Brownsville, Key West, abandoned boats with blood-spattered decks, and hauling up nets. Sometimes the nets were full of shrimp, he said. Sometimes the nets were full of shrimp mixed up with seaweed and trash. Sometimes they contained nothing but oddities and junk, and sometimes they contained nothing at all.
My grandpa was a net man. Never mind his T-bone steaks. Never mind how his short fuse in youth alchemized into the easy way he had about him later in life. Never mind that his boyhood nickname was Junebug. Never mind that he urged me to eat a Scotch bonnet off his pepper bush, and I did, and he laughed and laughed. Never mind the time he unrolled a giant map of the Gulf and told me all about it with a sailor’s mind and a sailor’s memory. The point is that he had – as we all do – an unknowable wildness. The point is that for 92 years he touched people’s lives without even trying. The point is that now he really has crossed the Gulf. The point is in the still of the night he left the world, and by left I mean he’s gone, and by world I mean all of this. I mean the crescendo of his life swept back down in a broad arc, I mean mass overtook energy.
My grandpa was a net man. He had been a shrimper himself, and worked with the nets. So when he opened up a shop in Key West and became a net-maker, he knew what to do. The shape, size, and kind of net he made depended on where the shrimper would be trawling and what type of boat they used. He worked the rope not only with his hands, but with an understanding of what was needed: the understanding that comes from time spent close to the heart of the work itself.
The nets were dragged along the ocean floor by the trawlers, and before that they drifted down, down, down through the briny water. But before that they had to be made from rope, the rope that passed through the fingers of my grandfather’s hands – hands I loved so much I never knew how to say it.
Dear Grandma Betty,
I hope I can maintain an honest assessment of who you were, and not get too wrapped up in memories seen through the milky windowpanes of linear time’s narrow corridor.
You wore your heart on your sleeve. You told it the way you saw it and made no apologies. You were born on July 31st. You repeated yourself an awful lot, and passed that particular trait on to your son (my dad) and your grandson (me). You liked taking people out to lunch. And you liked to talk…….a lot.
I remember meeting you for the first time. The pine boughs were swaying in the wind and it was summer when you came to the little house with the wood stove in the Oregon countryside, where my mom and I lived for 4 years and I rode my bicycle to school. Your voice with its syrupy southern accent – and your spirited personality – seemed so huge to me that I thought I felt the house shake through the soles of my worn-out sneakers.
But the biggest parts of you were your heart and your stubbornness. I didn’t know anything about you yet back then, but I could see right away that you were ruled by your heart, because of the way you were so kind to my mom. I was protective of her, and so I watched, and I listened.
It must be nice to have set down your suitcase of earthly burdens, grandma, but I miss your stories. I miss your grouchiness, your laugh, the way you pronounced hurricane ‘herrican’. The way you always used southern colloquialisms like ‘he was mean as a snake’ or ‘that girl would argue with a fence post’.
Sometimes a weariness comes over me when I think of loved ones lost. There are so, so many. And yet in a way, they’re all still here, they’re all….close. So I’ll say to you what I’ve said to them all, in one way or another, over the years:
to all those I love, and have loved, on either side of the transcendental veil – may my love be a lantern to help light your way. And may yours help me light mine.
Friends who I have left behind, friends I’ve not yet come to know,
these drops of rain upon the hill come likewise to the valley,
to beat against your doors, streak your windowpanes,
set aglow your lighted lamps.
Return now to your visionary dream, song of your heart’s voice.
Return now to your body, at once solid and transparent.
Return now to the music in every prism at the end of every string
held loosely by the fingers of every wide-eyed child.
These are not the days of old maps and heavy leather-bound tomes,
gold fabric of late afternoon unsheathed, only to be slid back into a scabbard of mist,
clearing the way for a midnight sky of shattered crystal and baby’s breath.
These are days of cold mumbling rivers that know secrets,
cabins in the mountains, their wood beams rotting too slowly for us to see.
While walking in the morning I digest this vastness, this solitude,
this gravity that presses against the muscles around the eyes.
Friends, I toss myself aside for you. I become available for you.
I eat, drink, run hands through hair for you,
scramble up the gully for you,
carry wood, fold socks, scrub pots, ever-fearless, requiring nothing.
These are days of time’s inhalation
pulling way up under the world’s collarbones,
stitching together the fibers of memory and intention.
These are days of emptying the mind, distilling the essence.
What does it matter if the world hears your voice?
We all belong to each other. Your voice is here, mine is here,
as great, small, and equal in worth as any other.
The voice is in your heart and so the world’s heart knows it,
as surely as you know the heart of the world.
The line is cast before the coming of a great fish,
a sudden tug is felt through our hands
and our withered husks give rise to something new.
I am thrilled to have this poem appear in the current issue of The Cape Rock literary journal from Southeast Missouri University.
Field Row’s End
Ox turns at field row’s end –
onions, tomatoes, zucchini and dill.
The luminous strands of March
get up, get ready, to work, to begin.
Get up, get ready, to work, to follow
the arc of the world, the slope of the light.
Dirt beneath thumbnail,
knees imprint the soil.
Clods of mud smear rubber boots
and we, the workers,
anchored to weather
with its moods, whims, dictations.
We, the workers,
fastened to the ox and the engine of his breath,
fastened to the fields,
splashing around in our patience,
working until it is no longer work,
but who we are and what we do.
Tuning in to the stillness of evening,
we have become the work itself.
We are the field, the ox.
We are the onions, the mud, and content to be so.
Watching attentively, listening closely,
we view ourselves as if through a microscope,
our metronome held in the bone-basket of our ribs,
its momentum not yet interrupted.
It’s hard to be sure
if you’re climbing.
really going somewhere.
As opposed to
just milling about
as if you were
at a cocktail party.
Who can say
in what direction
you’re actually moving?
Could be sideways,
or some off-the-charts
Perhaps there are
no directions at all,
and we’re just taught
that an absence of direction
would be impossible.
you’re hanging on
for dear life
to the same slippery place
you grabbed hold of,
when you lost your footing –
and almost fell –
so long ago.
For many long years, sleep did not come. Now it is here, a sanctuary, an unremembered temple of well-fed lions.
Summer comes, undeniable as the needs of body and soul. We peel away her nightdress, and when she goes we go with her.
There will still be times we do not feel supported by the earth, and contact with it will need to be reestablished. There will still be times when pain holds us in its mouth like a whale, and we struggle to light our way so we might see better in the darkness of its belly.
The sun is rising, now, again. The earth tilts on its axis, and that star is still there, incomprehensible fire of all fires at its center, and the fire moves ever outward, cooling equally, creating a roundness.
We owe our lives to the circumstances of the earth and the sun, to the distance between them.
It is morning and you are held in sleep. I am held in my usual early wakefulness. Calm water has eased my burning. There is soreness in my body, and insect bites on my skin.
I eat up the world, and am eaten by the world. A humble warrior does not forget to bow to all of it.