Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Pier

The sun-bleached wood of the pier worked side by side with the chill moving across the Atlantic to turn the world a faded white hue, as if color itself was repressed by the cold brilliance and breeze. There was a knife in the shape of a feather in my pocket.

The wind created a strange sense of isolation as I watched the fishermen nearby. Their voices, muffled or shouted or far away, were at its mercy. No matter the distance, I only heard the fragmented murmurs of conversation and the distant screams of seagulls that were blown in my direction; the rest was lost in the swirling chaos. When the wind would die down, it was odd to hear how close the voices really were. I wore a knit pullover that I found in a little beach store nearby. It was like wrapping myself in a thick blanket, and no sporadic wind would pierce its warmth. Between it and my old jeans, I looked more like a member of the Fleet Foxes than a new yorker on spring break. I sat on my bench, reading Virginia Woolf's To The Lighthouse and waiting for a phone call that I wasn't expecting to actually get. Because in a perfect world, I would be on the phone at the end of the pier, all those hundreds of miles away. I'd be standing there looking over the Atlantic, probably smoking some musky cigarette that a lonely sailor would crave. I'd be standing there without having paid the $2 spectator surcharge at the shoreline.

A fisherman was admiring his son's catch on the other side of the pier. "Look at you, boy! Haha! Y'all just keep getting better and better!" I couldn't make out the sight or smell of what the boy had reeled in, but I could feel his young pride radiating as his father laughed his coarse southern laugh. A second younger son stood with his back turned, his gaze undoubtedly set in a fierce watch over the remaining two rods. He stood very still; 3 feet of cold determination. Those fish didn't stand a chance.

The salt in the breeze was drying out my eyes as I read. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my shadow dance despite my stillness. Looking closer, it was the shadow's hair that was dancing. Like a freak Medusa, twisting and coiling and launching in every direction, and the figure underneath it remained stone. I tasted the salt on my tongue as the breeze picked up a little. Medusa lunged into her frantic dance with renewed vigor. I looked away, back to my book, to prevent thoughts of how ridiculous I must have appeared right then.

Fishermen and spectators walked up and down the pier. The sun continued to beat the sounds and smells and color into nothing but salty stains on the aged wood. The longer I read, the more I noticed the subtle power of the water underneath me. There was a definite sway, however slight, that the waves gave to the tall logs below. I would never have noticed it if it weren't for the smooth shifting of the letters on each page of my book, movements just real enough to distract my eyes and allow each word to slip out of its own meaning. Time could pass as quickly or slowly as it pleased, and the sun would never budge, but my eyes and tongue would continue to collect salt so long as I stayed. A breeze passed away, leaving the voice of the fisherman's son in it's wake. He was getting hungry. A seagull cried out out a few hundred yards away, no doubt the latest captive of the same wind.

I wasn't going to get a phone call that day. The dancer Medusa tapped on my shoulder instead. I wasn't wasting time. But she tugged at my sleeve, so I stood up and walked to the end of the pier, without any cigarettes, and $2 still missing from my wallet. A group of fat women in tight neon clothes were next to me, chattering away for a few minutes before they made their way back to shore, somehow above the influence of the color-sapping sun and the quiet shifting power of the sea. Two old men sat dead center at the edge of the pier. They had been there long before I was, probably as soon as the pier opened that morning, and would still be sitting there long after I left. I leaned over the rail near them and was surprised how high I was suspended over the water. The lingering image of the distance between myself and the ocean below followed me through the cracks between wooden planks all the way back down the pier. As I passed, the wind shifted in my direction some wisdom the father fisherman was giving his son concerning the price of hot dogs. I pulled the feather shaped knife out of my pocket.

The color of the brass handle resonated with the faded yellow sun, and it burst apart the dull white of the world with a brilliant golden shimmer. On the ground below the tiny explosion of light, I saw my Medusa shadow electrified in fear or delight at what it saw, and underneath, the faraway dark water just visible through the wood continued to softly shake the entire foundation of the pier. I closed my hand back around the knife. The chilling breeze died down again, and farther down the pier there was a small group cheering on the youngest of the southern fisherman's boys, who was reeling in something that must have weighed half as much as he did. The two old men watched and smiled from their bench. I put the little knife in my pocket, and made my way back to the shore.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Snow Man

When I woke up, I hit the silence button on my wristwatch alarm, and quietly arose from bed into the pre-dawn night. My roommates were sleeping, and would be for a while after I left the house that morning. I shifted and slid through the darkness of unlit rooms, passing the man asleep on the couch only in his dreams. My bag had been packed the night before; I slipped it over my shoulder and walked outside into the frosty air.
Except it actually wasn't that cold.

And the goddamn sun was shining. 
Completely threw my groove.

My winter has finally given way to everyone else's lovely little spring. 
There's no excuse for how hot it can get outside starting now, and inevitably will for the next unbearably long time. Not a single ac had time to kick back into life during the one day we had to prepare for this weather, so the rank sweat of the collective masses lingered in the air all over my campus, in every room and every hall. To leave a building is to subject yourself to these ultraviolent heat rays, and the only solution is to squint and grimace (grin and bear) your way to shelter as quickly as you can.

I am melting, suffocating, and everyone around is dancing, laughing.  Nobody wants to wear pants.

So when Rudd decided this day of all days to read Stevens' poem, I felt the spirit and the chill, and took refuge in it. When he recited this last solace, there were tears on my face right there in his class. It's going to be a long summer, but I think I'll be alright.

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place
For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

-Wallace Stevens