Cape Cod Light

[This year is the 20th anniversary of Cape Cod Light by Michael Hattersley. The other parts of this series are here.]

Michael loved Cape Cod. It lighted his life and his poetry, and it was there that he felt most connected to the natural world from which we come and to which we ultimately return.

His will told us to

Cremate me, scatter a bit in the garden, and put the rest of me in the dunes and the sea.

The final poem in Cape Cod Light is the book’s eponym.

Cape Cod Light

Dawn: earth is grey.
Overhead, a seagull catches the sun,
Flames bronze, and dives behind scrub pines.
It will glide low over swamp rushes,
Bank across the dune, and settle at the water’s edge.
Crabs wait, pursed muscles and clams,
To whom the golden seagull feels like death,
A conduit from sea to soil.
It becomes something new with each motion,
Plunging out of the sky.

It is a day to rise and go out to the Cape Cod Light
To watch the water work its will on the land.
We were all led down as children to the beach,
And bound, by a mutual gesture, to the sea.
Our awe: the miracle of light,
Plant light, sand light, bark bush and fire light,
Light on the several blues, greens, and whites of the sea.

Events intervened.
Grey dune shacks crumble into the sand
And more are built, the same. The stubby sandgrass
Creeps from green through yellow into August.
We can descend the dunes only by jumping,
Printing accidental angels in the sand.
By the shore, souls claimed by ocean
Reach up through the waves to take the hands
Of the living, not at all like dead things,
More fluid than bones picked white.
We brush them aside, proceed, do their will.
We inherit what our parents didn’t know.

It grows cool at sunset in August.
The sea blows hot and cold. The stars
That glint in the corners of your eyes
Evaporate looked at straight. Still,
You can chart a true course from them.

When storms spark
And the sky shakes itself like an angry old head,
When fog rolls in over the implacable light,
We calculate our position, and chart an according way.
In time, the full night sky will be lacerated with stars.
The sea will despoil itself on the white shore.
The enormous sandbar will hook around ahead
Into a harbor, where the fishing boats rise and fall.

The cries of the dead are stirring in the surf.
Anger keeps them here, each others’ audience,
Wearing, from time to time, the bodies of the living.
Waves crack and slither on the shore,
Black, white and black. Dunes hunch,
Dark shoulders of earth in the night.
One by one, and graves slide into the sea.
The fat orange moon spills across the water
And the dead are assumed, the unbroken line of them
Moving solemnly as kings to a miracle. They remind us
How we are falling into the future, falling.

Provincetown Harbor by Bret Duback



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