Lighthouse

The Point Reyes Lighthouse

 

The ranger is pulling the circular curtain
The demonstration is at an end
Beam by beam, the lighthouse begins
To swallow shafts of light,
24, 23, 22 …
Until only a couple remain.

Beyond a window of the illuminated cylinder
The ranger lingers awhile
Pronouncing the sentence
Of a once-lighthouse, now a museum piece
With but a few moments
Of phosphorescent mist.

All is dark again and cold and damp
But I am glad of the thick fog,
Glad of light and of planar geometry
Glad of Fresnel; lens tinkerer
Of whales a-bellow, gliding under
A vague hint of moon.

The visible world is shrinking to ten feet
Mist rains silently on the cliff
The ocean rumbles no more, not much is discernible
Beside me, the earnest gloved hand
Shivers a little
On our way to the car.

[I wrote the poem below after visiting the Point Reyes Lighthouse for the first time in 2009. It has remained in draft form ever since, shared only with the person who appears in the final few lines. Until now.]

 

A Catbird in a Snowstorm

Home is eight miles away, it is snowing,
I tell myself to be careful.
Both lights are still working: that’s a relief,
I zip up the jacket, buckle the helmet,
And sense the endorphins coming on.
There is ice on the frame, snow on the seat;
the catbird has been outside for long.
But now, bike and rider are cautiously ready
For the slow, steady ride home.

We test for slippage and seek grippy patches of road
Our senses are on red alert;
Is that salt below, or mud, or is it black ice?
We brake with care, and a hint of prayer
But the bike stays true; like it always has.
It’s not fast, it’s not light, it isn’t pretty,
But it knows me, and I know it.
Briskly we try out speeds, test cadences,
And settle on a comfortable clip for a snowstorm,
Pedalling faster, going slower than normal.

We can’t relax, even on the home stretch;
White sidewalks converge ahead,
Though snow obscures their virtual meeting point.
Below, the frame glistens red catching the taillight;
The catbird’s steady blinking heartbeat.
Snowflakes sparkle, always 3 feet ahead of us
Issuing outward like fireflies from a fantastic tube
We feel quiet, hearing no wind, no horns, no people
Only the sound of labored breath
And pin-pricks of snowflakes on a cold leathery face.

The catbird and I have gone many hundreds of miles
We are both silent and we are both lonely.
But we are not tired. Life burns madly in us;
Sad but fierce.

[Written almost a year ago, soon after biking from Boston Common to my apartment in Cambridge, past midnight in the middle of a snowstorm. “Gray Catbird” is my doughty commuter bike, and we have many stories to tell.]

Allergy

Morning:
Eyelids crusted over, refuse to open till
I bribe them with a strategic rub
Ah sweet, coaxing, perverse pain!

Noon:
Kerchiefs, napkins and tissues martyred
To nose fluid, eye fluid and godawful sneezing
A dozen blessyous for an embarrassed atheist.

Night:
A serpent awakes, wiggles, growls, drums up
Thrashing tongue, inflamed palette
Vile dances in the throat.

No embroidered cloths

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

[W. B. Yeats, The Wind Among The Reeds.]