2010 :: Issue 7/Fall :: Solitude
Some of the journal entries in this piece were first spoken into a tape recorder and include occasional unconventional punctuation.
March 21st, after dinner
(Walking on the beach) The tide is coming in, and white breakers are surging towards me. I’m walking on wet sand, in the cold night air. There are fires on the beach, which reminds me of a poem I wrote once that goes like this, “Night surf. Fires on the beach.” (Almost getting my shoes wet) Ooooh! I had to run back, to get away from the tide! (Stop) As one wave breaks in an orgy of white foam, the receding wave hinders its progress, as the older generation slows down the young. (Stop) Far down the coast are some bright lights, which could be the lighthouse at Montauk Point. (Stop) This beach has not lost any of its charm. I loved it forty years ago when I stood here, and I love it now. There’s nothing else like it. White foam coming out of blackness. Sound coming out of silence. (Stop) There’s an airliner bound for New Y…for Europe, its lights flashing in the night sky. (Stop) The waves are reaching higher and higher up the beach, overunning the sand with white foam. This beach makes me feel young again. It’s forty years ago, and I’m lying on the sand, reading that moth-eaten, disintegrating copy of Mallarme’s poems, with the surf crashing around me. (Stop) As I walked through the sand dunes, I saw a man and a woman who had just made love, he was standing up, putting his pants back on, and she was lying in the sand, half naked, I gotta tell you, it was so sexy to see them, I hope it was good for them, with the sound of the surf, and the cry of the seagulls, I hope they still remember it because, hey, I do! (Stop) Now it’s forty years later, and I’m walking towards a campfire on the beach. My feet are crunching on the rocks swept ashore by the tide. (Stop) God, I live for moments like this! The night surf makes me glad, insanely glad to be alive. And when it’s over, when the surf sounds no more, I’ll at least, yes I’ll have had this moment, these fires on the beach,
March 21, after dark
Now I’m sitting on my porch, and I can’t see the ocean, I’ve lost my red embers, but I can still hear the surf, I can smell the salt in the air, I’m alive, I’m writing words by the ocean, and I’ve been writing words, making sentences all my life, when it’s over, they can say, he spent most of his time on earth writing words, am I imagining things? I thought for a moment I could smell the burning wood of my fire, yes, definitely, in the wind, a smell of burning wood, I’ve stepped inside, and my glasses, cold from the night air, are fogging up!
March 21, 2010
I’m back on the beach, hungry for more. The lights have gone out on the ocean. Perhaps it wasn’t the lighthouse after all. Perhaps it was a cargo ship…slowly…moving north…along the coast. (Stop) The sky is clearing. Now I can see more stars. The cold light of distant worlds. (Stop) God, it’s hard to imagine what might be happening around those bright points, what awesome conqueror is moving his armies over the surface of those planets, taking himself so seriously, without any idea that I’m here, light years away, standing on a beach, wondering… (Stop) There are only embers now, and a few flickering flames fed by the wind from the ocean. (Stop) Three men are still sitting around the fire, their two women having gone to sleep. (Stop) Was I really here forty years ago, looking at the night surf? Was I standing here, drunk with white foam? (Stop) So…here I am, after forty years of writing, still completely unknown. I’m a flop. A loser. But then….why am I so happy? (Stop) I…..I think they’re gone. The three men who were sitting by the fire are gone. They’ve taken their chairs with them, but at least I can stand by their fire, which is still crackling. Oh, this really makes my day. Red embers on the beach, and white breakers in the black night. I’m a rich man. I’ve inherited a fire. (Stop) I can smell the burning wood. The smoke. And what memories are there, in that scent of charred wood, memories of hunters gathered around a fire, hundreds of centuries of them, generation after generation, the memory of a whole race is leaping in those flames. (Stop) I’m so glad they didn’t put their fire out. Sparks are flying in the wind. What an unexpected joy, to be standing here, in the light of a campfire, by the ocean. (Stop) I don’t want to go to sleep! I don’t ever want to stop looking at this white surf. (Sudden interruption as Side A of the tape ends)
[Beginning of Side B]
The tape had run out, and…ah…I may have lost a few words. Oh, this fire is like…a gift, a parting gift left behind by weary travelers, who sat around it all evening, as darkness fell on the ocean. (Stop) Oh my God, a wave almost swept over my red embers! It’s only a matter of minutes now, before the incoming tide sweeps over my….my precious remnants of a fire. There’s no one on this beach! No one but me. I’m the only one still standing in the cold wind, shivering around this remnant of a fire. Monique is in Mexico. Probably asleep by now, but….maybe watching TV. Roger is perhaps sitting at his computer writing poetry. And high over the ocean, a few miles off shore, the flashing lights of an airliner. Maybe they can see the lights of the coast in the distance. Maybe… (Stop) I’m standing in the path of the wind, so I can smell the fire. The smoke, the burning wood. The sparks are flying towards me. (Stop) I was wrong. I still love the concrete world. The physical universe. I love the universe, as some love God. I’m just….a tiny insect in this incredibly….large universe. The white vapor of my breath is flying in the wind. I love the physical universe. To be alive, to have sensations, to see and hear the surf, this is what it’s all about. (Stop) There’s another campfire down the beach, and someone is still standing in front of it. I can see his silhouette in the motel lights. There’s a ripping, pounding sound to this surf. The sound of water falling on water. (Stop) The embers are feeding off the oxygen in the ocean wind. They are thriving, they are just rippling with flame and glowing red light. (Stop) Oh, a catastrophe! The surf has just swept over my fire, scattering red embers all over the wet sand. My fire is going out, making huge clouds of smoke that are drifting towards one of the beachfront motels. What a lot of smoke my fire is making! Oh, I’m really sorry to lose those red embers. They’re just barely glowing now. I had to run back myself, not to get my feet really wet. (Stop) One more wave like that, and there’ll be nothing left of my fire. These last few embers will be overun with foam.
March 22, in the morning
There’s a fog on the ocean today, and the white surf is coming out of a hazy whiteness. I’m walking on the beach with an umbrella, an odd thing to do. But a cold, drizzling rain is drifting gently down. (Stop) Here are the charred remains of my campfire, which the tide washed over last night. Black stumps and white ash. (Stop) A pink volley ball is lying abandoned on the beach, and may have been there for some time, since it’s partly sunken in the sand. (Stop) The tide is receding now, below its high water mark of last night. (Stop) A black gull, or very near black, is riding the swells, sometimes dropping out of sight between the waves. How nice that must be, to have feathers and a bloodstream that can stand such cold water. (Stop) I’ve picked a pebble that was lying wet in the sand, as a souvenir of this morning walk in the mist. Wet sand is clinging to my fingers, and…this is a definite plus, the patter of rain on my umbrella. (Stop) I don’t believe it. The gulls are surfing, they fly out to an incoming wave, and ride the foaming crest towards the shore. (Stop) This must be their favorite time of day. They own the beach in the morning hours. (Stop) I don’t want to leave this spot. This moment. (Stop) Suddenly a white gull takes flight, and vanishes in the fog.