[This year is the 20th anniversary of Cape Cod Light by Michael Hattersley. The other parts of this series are here.]
Michael was a political junkie and a weather junkie. He obsessively tracked elections and Atlantic storms on cable TV with the same enthusiasm, switching between the Weather Channel and CNN. During the day he could take the pulse of the atmosphere from the balconies of his house, overlooking Cape Cod Bay in one direction and the Atlantic in the other; and by night he would take the pulse of the polis at the Atlantic house and Commercial Street.
In 1991, Hurricane Bob was heading straight for Cape Cod. Most residents that were able heeded the warnings, boarded up, and evacuated. When it was clear Bob would be a direct hit on Provincetown, we got the call from Michael: if you leave Boston now, you can probably make it across the bridge before they close it, and be here in time for the main event.
So of course we showed up.
Michael loved elections, he reveled in the Clinton victories; he was reinvigorated by Obama’s mandate. He longed for the political renewals they promised.
For my money, the seventeenth poem in Cape Cod Light, Provincetown, December 5, 5:00 A.M., is the masterpiece of the book. Its dramatic, sincere optimism is something America could use right now.
Provincetown, December 5, 5:00 A.M.
Tonight I awoke, unexpectedly,
To a rainstorm turning suddenly to snow:
Not the typical transition
From sleep to remembered dreaming,
From vague, lofty possessions
To embarrassing distortions of yesterday,
Then to a reluctant acceptance of morning,
But to a bold stand.
I think it was Keats,
Reading again, twenty years later,
How the sea was a revelation
Banging against the rocky chambers at Margate
Rather than whispering as it does here,
Rising silently, stealing buildings, seeping through the sand.
Everything comes back:
The poets that haunted me in my youth,
The struggle for sensation,
The hard work of friendship,
Worry attaching itself to trivia,
The achievements: lover, family, home.
All was of a piece.
Suddenly, the language wasn’t exhausted.
So many things that cried out for poetry
Had been neglected, things
That must be incorporated, or we die.
Some of religion’s strict fantasies have caught up with us
In daily life, even
As we’ve become more comfortable without it,
Because pestilence has gilded our hours.
The wind has turned,
Southwest to north, and a depression
Struggles to form over Nantucket.
I root for it.
I long for a great storm
To move majestically into the gulf of Maine and stall,
Bludgeoning us with wall on wall of snow,
Transforming the dunes into a whitescape,
Making the day new.
Upstairs, my loved one sleeps.
History haunts him
With the inevitable success
Of a movie villain with metal fingers.
There may be too much to absorb.
I fear the snow will subside to drizzle.
But if we can fill every rift with ore, and
Fight the insistence to refuse meaning
Who’s to say we can’t take the century by the throat?
The next poem is here.