Great Camp Sagamore, and other Visitations of the Past

In the morning, in Prozac dreams, I have known myself to go to war. The fields of battle used to move and speak to me. I knew them as friends, from when I was younger than I am now. At the end of our time together, none of them ever said goodbye, even though I wasn’t planning on doing it myself. It still hurt. I am still a child, and a bitter one at that.

I’m back at Great Camp Sagamore, where I started my college days years ago. It is an almost untarnished, well-polished, and immaculately maintained memory. But there too- is the salt of my old forms of warfare. I have held many grudges since then. It is seeping through bulkheads. At night, the rivets begin to loosen, and the outer hull ripples with the passing of undetected icebergs.
You will never get your revenge, but that doesn’t stop me from wanting it. Scratches and scrapes against the bottom paint. I’m waiting for the boiler room to flood, ear against the floor where below the ice echoes like sonar into the deep. I like to imagine the reverberation of my calamity can be heard for miles around, though I am sure it is nothing more than the blip of a plane splashing down into the Pacific, and the victor makes a token of rocking the wings, before turning into the sun.

We wore sneakers in the long dew-covered grass at the beginning. Remembering my former self from those early college days is like stepping into the dawn. Like the faithful old mornings here at Sagamore. Step outside, and you are in it- you re filled with a strange sort of hope. But then, where to now Sir? Calls the mate. You can do anything but you could also do nothing, so sayith the Lord, or something to that degree. I was never one for scripture, though it has been filling my uncertainties like caulk in a rotten bilge for some time now.
We used to lay on the stained old pool table in the basement of the dorm hall, talking of nothing, and flirting of even less. But in the years that followed, happy college days became a curdled memory and coagulated with a great deal of mutual rage.
I wish we’d known it sooner, before I waltzed over to her house four years later, and divided I wanted to incite the truth out of her. I was not to be disappointed of what followed. And I was no longer alone in my tarnished memory of myself, though I think it had been that way for a long while before then.

The sky turns a more pleasant shade of blue over the great camp, as the true morning comes on. The sky is free of planes, the lakes free of ocean liners and icebergs. Only the black flies encircle my head like dive-bombers. A quaint reminder of the cost of the war I’ve been waging, and the strain on the economy of my being I have wrought in myself.




10382302_10204384985254981_8932963122963137300_oMy name, like courage, held in the drifting lights
that faded away from the kitchen as we woke up.
Backseat, waiting for your train.
Strong aversions to how things had gone sour
held out like pockets on the eastern front.

I’d been here before, retracing felled ground, examining foothills and farmhouse nests, reclaiming my own life.
The one that had proven its foundation and faith.
A vaulted ceiling gathers soot like a well loved collection
of coffee mugs in the cupboard
and socks in the drawer.

Where the floor rattles a little with the switching on of the air conditioning, and where shadows and cracked pavement climb steep up Ironwood,
Is where summer peace grew like sea grass
holding in the shoreline, like you held me
On foggy nights,
Soft by the seaside,
For years of green.
Waves like the wild
You motioned to show me,
the courage in the calm of your mists.

I Waterlogged the Electric Kettle

Board games on the coffee table with the dual innocence where we once were as children,

but now soiled skin.

There’s too much baggage in our collective bedrooms. So start anew at six and seven. Benefits of skipping the younger years, maybe fashion someone that will share in your condition.

Throw open the sash after Christmas, a spring cleaning of sons. I should have noticed sooner,

but you covered your bases, assured me of the unchanging nature of things. I remember your embrace when I left for Ireland at the airport.

But of course it’s changing. And you knew that even then, since November or before. You delayed me- got to me first. Before I was standing at the sink, holding the electric kettle under the tap, when I noticed and forgot the water running cool over my hands.

The thought came then.




Arthur Kill Ship Graveyard

Take to your holds, your windswept hovels and your ships quarters. Below deck, down the old oak folding ladder with speed, and nearly run right into the center table where we ate dinner, built by my grandfather, suspended on a clever balance, like the stove, and the lanterns dry of oil. Take to your headaches and your rage that casts light onto the water from the salt crusted windows. Tarnish grows on the metal casting around the glass with each voyage from waters rushing with speed. Motion in life personified by the act of sailing for those who can no longer stand on the mainland. Help the old man into the small boat and haul him up to the deck, his legs at this point in his life, have failed him. Yet even in skiffs do we lose our minds- I remember breakfasts in the morning on the ancient dining room table. I don’t know who in my family squirreled it away or sold it. My grandmother says she’ll never go back to that ruined house now. Empty bedroom, apparitions in the stovepipe- the windows overlooking Pocha Pond. I would take to that place were it still ours, were it not sold but were instead rotting- The greenhouse was filled with mildew and dead birds last I visited, and a harmonica echoed in the empty rooms that once held furniture. The old man struggled to breathe through the reeds in his age, no longer able to die in the house he himself built. I would like to sit cross legged on the well loved floorboards, and look out over the collapsing deck. Perhaps the osprey pole is still standing in the marsh. You told me once in a bout of chemically induced adolescence, that you and your friends got drunk and carried the pole there years ago, and in the mud you found deer bones. The sun still shines on that place as it did before. The light taken to our holds when our bodies fail us. When we are angry. When we are powerless and we break the walls in retaliation, and still refuse amputation. These days, I find myself digging through storerooms. Dust covered sewing supplies, old outdoorsman clothes, and cracked VHS tapes with TV recorded movies. Could such relics be found, I’d sit and smoke the pipe that nearly gave you cancer though the collecting fluid in its place damn well finished the job. The fog of smoke would rise as it did from the office when you practiced law amongst empty bookshelves and a light spot on the floor in the corner that the grand piano once occupied. I stood in its usual place, and felt I was trespassing. The rooms where we stayed are still painted morning yellow and a gentile blue- though the corners now grey with webs, and the bodies of spiders. You called it Avalon, the island where everybody knew your name, and it passes from us now like storm clouds over the marsh. Near the end we took to rocking waters sinking ships across the harbor. The deck of your vessel has rotted through. You motioned to me to sit up front in the old skiff as we left the mainland for the last time- away from ruined kingdoms and legends of deer bones. In those final days you refused the amputation of your legs, though you were no longer able to stand on them. You called me “my boy” back then. When my life feels like a gale- I think of you. I think of avalon and the sails of little ships making their way out from the beach head. I think of sunscreen, and I think of the way my hair felt filled with salt. I want to make the trip again to the land just beyond the marsh, and see who lives there now. I don’t know if they’ve done away with the house. Still, I will tell them of you, And from such stories of Avalon, I will make them know they are trespassing on the graveyard of Arthur.

Seconds Spent in the Lomo Years

I’ve been going through old photographs. They’re digital copies of film shots I took back when my parents were paying my way, and they let me spent a little extra on film and lab fees. They’re poor quality scans, seeing as how I did them myself in my spare time. The negative scratches are unrepaired, there are smudges on the scanner bed, and the shallow emulsion is symptomatic of what remains of 35mm film production. Even though I now own a digital camera of some decent quality, I still go through those old film pictures more often than my digital work. I listen to the band Beirut when I do this for reasons I will explain, and breathe slowly. This is all I can muster of time travel, and I’ve resolved to make the most of it.

I will start from what I can of the beginning, and guide you through the outlines and traces that have led me to writing this now. There was a time when I was more lost than I’d been in a long while- senior year of high school to be exact. I’d just come out of a terrible romantic relationship that I’d rather not go into, friendless and without any social standing. It was from this vacuum of my self that I first met the illustrious Lizzie Stimpson- the best thing that had ever happened to me. She was more lovely than autumn on Cape Cod, and though she has been dead a year, her sway on my life remains as constant as though I might walk down the road to her mother’s house and see her once again. She and I became fast friends, and from her I met Savannah and Betsy. I reconnected with my old friends Brendan and Peter. We were misfits, brought together by a common want of life, or a common want to get through high school with some measure of our sanity intact.

It was around this time that I discovered Lomo film cameras, specifically the Lomo Compakt Automat- a plastic amalgamation of Soviet defiance of international patent law. The design was originally Japanese, though it had been distilled down to its most basic elements. I developed a strange love for this small box. The lens was soft, the exposure rudimentary, but its character infinite. From my place of little social experience, I lifted that foreign object to my eye and shot roll after roll of CVS brand film. The shield of that Eastern Bloc glass gave me some measure of confidence to go ahead on. For a while its character supplemented my own, until I was well enough to stand without it. It is the journey of that seventeen year old me that I follow in these photographs. Without the Lomo, I wonder how much I would still remember, or how much I might have seen at all.

The story from here on occurs to me in no chronological order like the photos, and as such there is no possibility for me to continue in that manner. I will attempt to describe then the method of remembrance. It begins with the image. I will choose the one that started the thought for this writing. From the surprised face of Tommy as the flash fired in my bedroom, I remember the scene. There were a few people sitting on my bed, Bella and Lizzie I think. James may have been close by but I can’t quite remember, as he’s outside the frame. Tommy was strumming a tune on my Martin, my first real guitar at the time. It was a cool summer night I think, and I was feeling warm after a couple beers. I was discovering my house as a meeting place for my friends, and I was happy to have them.

Next are blurred photos of bowling late at night with Izzie, my new acquaintance who later would become a good friend, and one of the few of that would remain so. Still echoes of the crash of pins being knocked aside in the faded light sound through the cheap chemicals. In that sleepy town that year every night was a new and wonderful adventure. New faces, and the same old ones that brought me comfort appeared again and again in the warm lights from the houses that stand out amongst the silhouetted trees in my memory.

From here I leave the camera like leaving a well blazed hiking trail and find my own way to the summit. From a few disconnected images the place then seems to come alive. I can close my eyes and it is if I am opening them in a distant moment. This is no exaggeration. I have done this with whilst playing music I was listening to back then, and it seems for an infinitesimally slim moment as if I could remain there, and see my friends again the way they were. I breathe, and at once I am alive in the basement of the public high school listening to Tommy, Izzy, and Joe play Beirut’s Nantes to a crowd of parents and friends. It was my first real live music experience, and I recall feeling alive in the sound and the rhythm and the notes of people who would soon rejoin the crowd and smile toward me. We went to Steve’s Pizza on Main Street afterward, and there I met Izzie for the first time. I remember she made fun of my obscure choice of camera. The moment ended, I find myself in a new one as I try to run through the scenes and find one in which I might be overlooked and can stay. I am in ****’s basement making love at three AM. She was a friend who I’d always liked and for a brief time became more than that. I loved her a bit I think, though I’m fairly certain she didn’t love me. I never really asked. I remember driving her home from Woods Hole and being led through the glass sliding doors and holding her on the stiff mattress till she fell asleep. Then I would drive home late at night across the cranberry bogs to stumble into my bed. By then it was almost dawn.

Stranger still are memories of Lizzie, who is now passed. Memories of her have a different motivation than the others. I had dreams shortly after her death of seeing her in my doorway, silhouetted against the hallway light. I tried to yell out, to warn her and to save her from the eventual failure of her heart. But the words choked me, and I could not speak nor scream. I awoke many times from such nightmares in a sweat. I think these were merely my first experiences with sleep paralysis, though their connection with Lizzie has not left me so easily. I can recall drinking wine with her, Alister, and Savannah on the porch of the building atop the Woods Hole Green. Lizzie had brought a blanket and a guitar, and though we broke one string, she continued to pluck tunes from it. We were too busy listening late into the night to notice that at some point Savannah’s car was ticketed on the road below.

There was time I got food poisoning at the mall, though I still managed to buy a shaker egg at the music shop with Tommy, who had bought a kazoo. I remember countless midnight conversations of hushed voices from Courcelle’s kitchen over herbal tea. We got halfway through Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind once, and instead finished the night talking of promised summer ventures that never came to pass. The first time I smoked cigarettes was outside on the back porch of Jamie’s house at the party when I kissed Savannah in the basement. I got drunk at Luca’s one fall night at an earlier party and professed my love apologetically to Lizzie, though I was too far gone to make any sense. Afterward Betsy punched me in the stomach for being such an idiot. James and I played music together in the dim lights of my room in the cold winter. We wore thick sweaters because my old house had poor insulation. On winter nights as a group we lit fires at the frost-covered beach at the pond down the road from my house. We drank stolen whisky and looked at stars till we couldn’t feel our extremities. On a misty night James and I were once chased off the train bridge by the voice of a night watchmen when we walked out over the canal water looking for a quiet place to smoke cigarettes.

The year felt like an odyssey to me, and at the same time it passed from my eyes so fast I only managed to take a hundred or so photos. They serve as markers for my memory. Places to begin and relive those days of high adventure in a sleepy little town on Cape Cod. I hear the sound of Beirut, and imagine Tommy’s off key singing leading the melody. The air of my bedroom feels cooler though it is now August. I trace the outlines of where the cracks grew on my knuckles that winter from the dry air. I clear my mind of experience and for an instant feel that younger energy fill my body before the years roll back down. Sisyphus had it difficult indeed, and though my muscles do not ache from the fruitlessness of the struggle, my heart certainly does. Amongst the markers like Cairns on mountaintops I see the still faces of my friends now distant. Few of them remain in my life the way they once did. I see them only in passing now, but the adventure is gone. We no longer light fires on the beach or pass stolen beer amongst ourselves in my bedroom. I haven’t heard James’s violin in quite some time. The Lomo camera sits unused on a shelf. The winder is broken beyond repair, and anyway I can no longer afford the film. It all feels so far off, like an echo across the water. Something like a Loon call maybe. The frozen wood cracks and glows while the blankets by the fire shift slightly. A bottle of cheap whiskey sloshes as someone picks it up. My toes are numb but for the first time in my young life I am content. Please. I ask in a hushed tone so that the mist from my mouth does not betray my breath to the passing time. Give me one second more.