Not To Stop
Not to stop beside the sea,
Like a wave that skips
A beat when the ocean is too free,
Or the currents sloppy in the rips,
Even long ago
Was more than I could bear—
No surf then more slow
Or palms more rustling in the air,
No flow more fresh, no rattling thatch
More orange with the day, or shade
More lime with sand, when evenings latch
On breezes splayed
And salted by the fog,
That adolescent spray
Whose leaping auras slog
Across the tail end of the day,
When the island haze on thistle
Swirls and thickens with the sound
Of the trade wind’s warning whistle
Whipping distant clouds around—
Not to stop beside this specific sea
Would be to say that some new shores,
Some tropic déjà vu,
Hid skies as loud as meteors
And worlds as light as you,
Where finally it would be a lie
Not to linger, love, and die.
Duke's Beach, Waikiki
July 10th, 2003
Redone August 19th and 20th, 2003
The Incredible Shrinking Man cries in frustration over his fate. He is shrinking so fast that soon the tears have become an ocean, on whose edge he reaches out to the one distant rock on the horizon, which is how I remember the movie ending. Man lost on a beach of his own making, and not necessarily a safe one, reaching out to his dreams: the more unobtainable, the more attractive. In fact, the movie doesn’t end that way, but it does have a poetic monologue reviewing the metaphors of the story; probably the last time a writer was allowed final cut in Hollywood.
In order to identify, approximate, preserve, and somehow resolve that instinctive, wordless, incoherent dream-leaping that takes place regularly in the numb nocturnal recesses of the brain, in limb limbo, that dark territory where the remains of our cosmic roots reside, the uselessly urbane brain turns to poetry.
This poem was originally called “Love at First Sight,” but I have at least three other poems called that, as I suppose we all look to visions, miracles, serendipities as ways to measure enchantment in a world largely without it.
Such trances are traditionally encouraged in beach resorts, Disneylands for adults, lulled by cinematic memories, technicolor tides. Adolescents experience surging loves, impossible dreams, which drive them, or haunt them, for the rest of their lives. So in that suspiciously man-made sun, painting pastel bathers on a postcard sky, there is a genuine emotional link to infinity, a 3-D diptych of our youngest, and thus oldest, emotions.
The milestones of observed lives seem to blossom ruthlessly under such skies. I see about me as I sit here, pounding my cuneiform into stones, the nearsighted blur of sailors lined up on bended knees, white-suited spouses icinged in the equally outlandish photographer’s strobe, fat polyester parents blinking, at them, at me, Nepalese tangkas made flesh, living banners where the seven levels of ignorance and enlightenment coexist, the way to heaven illuminated on a towel, scrawled on the surf. In such frescos, on such promenades, all sorts of plants blossom, ripen, and season; date, honeymoon, and retire. A beach is a flash book where other people’s lives flip in front of us.
I was at such a beach on Oahu when I was sixteen and had my first drink at the original Trader Vic’s, a dirty brown flowering on which a lifetime of umbrella drinks rests. To this day I stare at the surf beyond the Royal Hawaiian banyan tree, and suns set repeatedly. In such shallows I put down aerial roots. The hallucinations of that adolescence seem just as dazzling to me now, after years of dimmer pursuits.
The first minute of a Beethoven sonata contains the kernels from which the rest of it explodes like popcorn. In the same way, I think I, at least, have returned to the scene of the crime in Oahu, to the template where I started, to watch my beginnings from a safe distance. Like weeping over a bad old song, prudence and experience have had no effect on unfortunate melodies. The muzak of youth is forever exempt from judgement. The Chinese lanterns of first love dangle always from the same trees.
Torchlit processions of haloed, oversexed surfers continue now as they did in my youth; outriggers slap, royal palms curve out of the twilit sand. The sun sets here the way it used to; cause and effect sit on the same beach, looking much the same. Child sailors and cardboard cygnets gliding around like cutout dreams against the violet sun are an inkling that one day the navigators will return, married to real swans in a real sunset, and, as far as I know, they do.
This is a poem to my wife, who was and is (in a quantum world) the future source of my oldest dreams.
I wrote this on Duke’s Beach in Waikiki from 5:02 to 5:39 pm on July 10th, 2003, and rewrote it on August 19th and 20th, 2003, in Kailua, and on July 5th and 6th, 2013, at Torrey Pines in La Jolla.