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Posts Tagged ‘Shackleford Banks’

 

[with 2 poems by Robert Pack]

If we keep it we’ll have to kill it. My Daughter-in-law is holding the whelk she’s discovered in the shallows near Lookout Bight off Shackleford Banks. Knobbed whorl, indigo interior of striped nacre, bigger than a baby’s fist – she suddenly drops it back into the water. The shell’s inhabitant has shifted its operculum and startled her as it crawls across her palm.

She picks the shell back up and we lean close as she turns it over and over. Perfect. Beautiful. We can’t keep it or kill it, elegant gastropod, primal sea snail. I remember Nana boiling the big shells she gathered from the sound below her house but I don’t recall ever eating conch chowder, only the procession of pink and tangerine lining her sun porch, mother-of-pearl inside but intensity steadily fading through the years.

What can we keep? What can we take with us? Not life. Maybe just the things life has touched. Sixty years later I still hold Nana’s conch shells in memory. I still see my Mother bending to capture a lettered olive rolling in the surf (while all I spot are shards). Tomorrow I will still hear my Granddaughter’s laughter as she splashes across the sandbar to see what her mother has found, and I will watch them together lower the magical creature back into the brine.

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These two selections are from Robert Pack’s All One Breath (Green Writers Press, Brattleboro, Vermont, © 2019). Many of the poems live intimately with nature, whether wild Montana where Pack lives now or the New England of his memories. Some of the poems are stories peppered with wit, unexpected turns and outcomes, subtle puns. I laugh at loud at some of his poems, tear up at others. The entire book, seems to me, weaves the thread of connection from place to place, from life to life – nearing the end of life, Bob Pack teaches us what we carry, what we can keep, what we might leave for others.

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Bear Grass Interval

++++ At roughly ten year intervals
this globe of minuscule white flowers
clustered on a dense green stalk
appears profusely in the vernal woods
of mountain-range Montana,
so the entranced observer stares
at what appears to be
a galaxy of stars that has now drifted down
and settled softly on the earth.
++++ Ask anybody who has witnessed
this phantasmagorical display,
and they will swear
that they have never seen
a spectacle so tranquil
and serenely beautiful.
++++ Yet I imagine beauty
here on earth does not
originate in the beholder’s eye,
but dwells out there inherent
in the humming universe
as one of Plato’s fundamental forms
beyond the realm of time and space
that still can harmonize discordant thought
and woo the tides of the recumbent air.
++++ You ask how this far-out belief
affects my life; am I
less self-absorbed and less defined
by personal diminishing
to primal and concluding nothingness?
++++ Perhaps if everyone would pause
to gaze upon the Bear Grass flowers
glowing on the mountainside,
and view them as if willfully designed,
a combination of sweet symmetries
and startling randomness,
then they would feel less separate,
less lonely, less irrelevant, content
to play the quiet role of witnesses.
++++ But now, right now, the galaxy
of Bear Grass flowers is not visible
and will not reappear
for an uncertain interval,
assuming earthly time
still measures disappearances,
the emptiness lost love and friendship leave
forever achingly behind.
++++ I do not know if I’ll endure
another interval – a wandering
beholder of the momentary woods –
until Bear Grass returns to grace my sight
and holds there, astounded
and suspended in delight

Robert Pack, from All One Breath, Green Writers Press, Brattleboro, Vermont, © 2019.

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Sandhill Cranes Dancing
++++ ++++ ++++ for Patty

++++ At dawn the Sandhill cranes, their heads
splashed vivid red, initiate
their mating dance, circling each other
on long, narrow legs tanning their huge, gray wings
in slow, dreamlike deliberation.
++++ They throw sticks from their pointed beaks
into the air to flaunt their mating skills.
Their whooping echoes out across
the same dew-sparkled field
where they’ve returned each spring
for twenty years since we, my wife and I,
initially began to keep our watch.
++++ A forest ranger we’d not met before
stops by our house to ask if we have seen
the grizzly bear tracks in the mud
beside our border stream. He tells us that
the constellation Ursa Major will
appear tonight effulgent
right above us in the northen sky
and that he likes to stay awake at night,
with just his telescope for company,
to calculate how long it takes
red-shifted light to reach the earth.
“My favorite is melancholy Saturn,”
he declares and its attendant moons,
each one with its own orbit, hue, and size.
“My hope is that I’ll find a hidden moon
that no one has observed before;
it would preserve my name.”
++++ He says that stars right now are being born
and burning out, collapsing on themselves,
that due to universal entropy
in maybe fifty-billion years
all matter will thin out and dissipate,
so that no memory and no
intelligence – none would survive.
++++ And even I, who own no telescope,
can comprehend terminal emptiness;
it’s no less thinkable than is
next May without our being here to watch
the cranes perform their dance as if
their tossing sticks into the dawn
and catching them might signify
that everything returns again
to re-enact past happiness.
++++ Yet in our bones we know that soon
our bearing witness must conclude,
just as the green field must turn brown,
which it, alas, has been designed to do.
So let us pause again in misty light
to watch those red crests blur and disappear
above the waving trees, and listen hard
as medleyed crane calls float away
and fade into a murmur in the air.

Robert Pack, from All One Breath, Green Writers Press, Brattleboro, Vermont, © 2019.

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[Note: When I was growing up my family used the word conch to refer to every big spiral gastropod on the North Carolina shores and sounds. What we were actually finding, usually just pieces of their shell in the ocean surf but the living, crawling creatures in Bogue Sound, were whelks. The big ones, true whelks, are in the family Buccinidae, but whelk is also a common name applied to various unrelated varieties of sea snail. The true conch, family Strombidae, lives in Florida and farther south; again, many unrelated species of sea snail in different families are also colloquially referred to as conch. Whatever you call them, discovering a complete unbroken abandoned shell on the beach is worth a big whoop and holler.]

Photos by Bill Griffin. Header art by Linda French Griffin.

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2020-11-03a Doughton Park Tree

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