“Guy Cotten” in Yellow

The St Ives fisherman’s co-operative at the end of the wharf near Smeaton’s Pier sits quiet compared to the ice cream shops and fish and chips shops. In the windows are things attuned to the casual visitor. A few days after I went I read about the shop, which had been there since the 1920’s. Back then they used to sell oilskins and heavy waxed boots. The air held a perpetual musk of linseed oil and paraffin. Today they sell sweatshirts and a few raincoats. Fisherman’s tackle is in the corner by the door. The ceiling is low. I have to duck a little under the rafters.
At first through the threshold I am alone. Its only after I start wandering around that a thin man in his mit to late 60’s emerges from some secret place in the shop. I could have sworn it wasn’t big enough to hide anyone, and yet as if from the woodwork he was there in the corner, watching me intently. I think he believed I might try to steal something.
I’d come in originally looking for a yellow nautical rain slicker, the kind that the oyster farmers I see setting up coolers on Water Street back home wear under large overalls in high visibility orange. Sometimes I wish I had their job. Even in the summer heat under the rubber gear I pass by them and hear their weathered voices laughing with a vitality that my day job seems to suppress in me.
I grew up on the water. My grandfather taught me to sail and signed me up for sailing camp, but I quit around the time I turned sixteen. However, now that I’m older and he passed away, breathing the salt air in deep comes with dreams of those few times when I was younger and sky was grey, and I remember the sea really being something wild. I picture myself running with the waves in a two man racing dingy, the spray dripping off my yellow lifejacket that seems to strain with me against the wind and the pull of the sheet. If I close my eyes on a bus or a train I can sometimes feel the rhythmic thrashing of the waves on the hull when it missed the valley beneath the crest and shuttered along the beam.
The co-op is quiet compared to the busy street. It’s early summer in Cornwall and the weather has been clear since I arrived in England. I haven’t yet found myself in need of a raincoat. I’m flipping through the yellow coats on the rack with nautical striped lined hoods and attractive zippers when the guy says in a quiet abruptness, “Those-re all ladies jackets”.
“Yah hard to tell right away sometimes”. I notice I’m slurring my words a little, trying to sound like there’s a dryness in my throat from the salt air. He doesn’t say anything, or he doesn’t hear me. I pull from the rack on the far left side away from the window a plain looking baggy yellow jacket- the spitting image of what the fisherman at home wear. It’s a highlighter yellow, but I call it “hi-vis” when I pull it from the rack and bring it to the man’s attention.
“This looks like a real one” I say, pausing a little, hoping hill fill the void in my knowledge which really only goes so far as “this looks like a real one”.
“yeh, it’s a proper rain jacket. Has the fused seams rather than stitched”. He handles the rubberized fabric and instantly finds an example, but falls quiet again.
“How’s fishing around here?” I start, “I’m from a coastal town like here. I’ve got a friend who’s an oyster farmer who told me there’s no money in it anymore. All the fish are gone.” I’m trying hard to sound like I know what I’m talking about. It’s only half true. I do know someone in oyster farming, but we’ve never really talked about her work, and don’t know how related if at all that is to the fishing industry. I just know you can’t just buy a proper fisherman’s rain slicker without knowing something about the sea. I check and recheck my record. I could mention that I used to sail, but that was in sailing camp, and these guys didn’t start in any sort of summer camp. The man in the co-op certainty didn’t I think. Did he fish? Does he just work here? There are deep crests of wrinkles on his forehead and his hair is cut short and out of the way. His face is laconic, which only serves to alert me to how much mine gives away. I’m curling my toes in my boots and sweating in my t-shirt. He had me pegged from the moment I walked in. I just know it.
“There’re still some little boats around that still go out with nets,” He says. “ And the big trawlers make the money. It’s the medium fishermen” He doesn’t finish his sentence. I assume he means, “It’s the in between sized fishing ventures that failed”. I ask him if he did any fishing himself and he says. “A little, yes”.
I buy the jacket. It’s a baggy medium. “Probably to fit a sweater under” I say in front of him to myself, but I know it’s made for someone of a different build. He thanks me for my fifty and I walk out into the cloudless sun of St. Ives with the yellow rubber folded under my arm. In the harbor it is low tide, and a small fleet of boats lays beached waiting for the water to come back in. Their lines run entrenched in the sand, crisscrossing small channels of salt water, which run from pools at the base of the crowded break wall. Beyond the many beach goers lying amongst the boats, the coastal waters reflect back an empty and unbroken blue.

Advertisements

hladová zeď

The ancient Soviet pipes,
Left the water tasting
Strongly of Iron
from the kitchen sink.

The old TV tower, like a monolith
Alien in the sky over
The Jewish quarter,
And the medieval city.
The cluttered old cemetery.

Night bus like a chariot.
They’ll sell you water
For a few Crowns, but coffee is free.

My home is somewhere far off,
An old house near but not on
The coast. Where it is quiet most days,
And nothing spits waves high above the trees.
There is no hunger wall, no old fortification,
Climbing the hill.

When the shock wore off,
My boot socks had worn through
Leaving blisters on my feet.
I can still taste moldy cheese,
The day after I left.
Like broadcasts set high into the stratosphere,
Linger in the air
Of decades and centuries prior.
Or at least, so says my guidebook
Of the Charles Bridge.

Brno

When you realize, the new sense-
By the neon light-
Of the sex shop sign,
and the Soviet era tram system
grinds along steel lines.

Strange shock for the foreign frontier,
Where I came to purge the untrue self, or just as well
Rattle him.

Close your eyes, and think of England.
Isn’t that what was said before they were shot
With soviet made ammunition?

The back of the skull.
Former BLOC. Midnight bus
Through the lives of others.
8:15 exactly. Start the bus. Start again
Homeward west.
Start again.IMG_0187

Some thoughts on my time abroad.

In some ways, I wish college and traveling abroad wasn’t sold to us as such a unanimously great thing. That is not to say that I regret my choice to travel to Ireland. However, this notion that traveling abroad will be “the time of your life” is utter bullshit. I suppose it’s more difficult to convey the message, “Go see the world, and yeah we’re not gonna lie, people you love will die, your home may or may not fall apart, and you’ll feel like you have nowhere to go back to. But you’ll grow so much in such a short time”. The articulation would be difficult on any brochure.

So in one sense, I have no regrets. But in another I am forced to admit that I am not happy, and have not been in some time. I’ve had my good moments sure. But they have been hidden in blank stares, and late at night, my mind wanders to visions of you breathing oxygen when the mitral valve in your heart gives out. In that moment, I will check to if my hands are still smaller than yours in those final moments just as they were in those first. I think of my mother, and her disdain. I think of my younger brother, and his arms larger now than mine,  with hints of topography in the scar tissue.

Heaney once called it “The Music of What Happens.” But how the fuck do you translate it? Am I expected to learn to sight read? But I’ll end the tortured metaphor where it lies. It doesn’t really matter, in much the same way that writing doesn’t matter. Not really anyway.

No matter what clever little words or enjambments I might conjure, I am left then with photographs taken of a young me with teeth I no longer have next to a snowman in Rhode Island. There is another of my brother and I amongst a pile of dead leaves. Wedding photos on Martha’s Vineyard after you both graduated the college I now attend. Kodak film. My mother’s camera she used in college. Acrylic sleeves in black faux leather albums. The frames are displayed on the mantle wherever it is you live now, or smashed by my mother on the front lawn you used to cut in the summer.

The Summer Triangle and a Land of Abandoned Lake Houses

I saw a photo of you in an ocean-going canoe. Not so much one designed for it, rather, the old beat up one that you kept among the brush and the sand dunes. The one meant for a pond, made of cherished and dented aluminum. I saw you amongst the floating bits of ice in the ocean. It’s been a long time since the oceans frozen over. I’m not there to see it.

In this winter, I’ve been experiencing a nasty case of cabin fever. From inside the dust is falling like snow into drifts in the corners of the trim board. I can see it in the sunlight of halogen lamps. Up here, where the mountains rest and the air smells sweetly of abandoned campgrounds on the banks of Lake George, I will follow 9North till I run out of gas or the engine seizes. Which ever comes first. There are signs of scenic overlooks, and from them, I could observe that mountains on the far bank. It would not be long before I hit the pass.

Where you are, in a little ocean-going canoe, I hope you check the charts for rocks and the stores stowaways. Hastily made liberty ships sailed these waters once, and met the torpedo and the iron hull of the submariner. In silent ice water rust the wrecks of Nantucket Sound.

Write soon then, and write often from your arctic expedition amongst the icebergs and the fjords in that winter landscape I left behind. Trespass on the yards of great manor houses and wander the streets of the home country while you can. For there will come a day when you too will find yourself in a tiny apartment up north, looking for the sea on which you might launch from a beachhead of frozen sand and snow, a vessel without sail and a cherished hull. Navigate by the winter sun and the remnants of the summer triangle, and for a time amongst the icebergs, we might never grow old.

Costal Roads Taken at Speed and With Great Velocity

It’s in those moments, clearing my sore throat and feeling the scruff of my face against my hands, late at night in my dimly lit dorm room, that I’m drawn into a sort of trance. Back to the days of high adventure, of a romanticized and imagined past contained in a dark parking lot with a single car billowing steam from the hood, and four young men standing round laughing, having torn up the gravel just moments before.

Its in the moment on the dock before I went home with you, and you kissed me on your hard bed in your grandfathers basement, and he died three days later, and I wondered if you ever understood that horrific symbolism. Or if you understood how the blazing taillights of my car at night on their way past Nobska, were like a farewell to the warmth of that summer, embracing all of the things in that small world I loved so dearly.

It was in those moments before it all fell apart, and I fled and reminded myself of the growing power beneath my feet. It was a time of life, and of an infinite and hectic glow that rushed from a high point overlooking the sea, down the winding costal road, past bonfires dug in the sands, toward the rush of life on Cape Cod in the summertime. A time when I felt most myself amidst the cool sea air that blew thick with salt and the essence of July and August.

Laughter in the dark of the green, A bandana tied around your forehead, the way the street seemed alive with an endless handful of months, and an honesty that maybe I just imagined, in that manic dream of that seaside town I swore was real.

I swore under my breath when it was proven outdated. I kicked my desk into the wall and left a hole in the drywall one day I’ll have to explain to you. It’s a different kind of madness, a different kind of wanderlust and fear and paranoia and fright for my life that I’d never felt before, shrinking into dreams of past youth and of the golf course where we loitered and of the sprinklers we dodged and the fires lit and the beer drunk and the cigarettes smoked and your smiles and how in this short happy life I feel I have lived a thousand times over in newly uncovered memories.

Memories uncovered when the mood is right, and the campus sleeps and the cassette deck hisses and I hold my unkept face, and how I haven’t showed, and how I fear for my life as a coward before the whistle and the pulling upward with both arms over the wall. Because in every recess of my life, despite the life lived, I am still in want of the immeasurable years, and of a life both beyond this town, and contained within it. I am in the taillights that wound along the costal road at speed, wishing for understanding in the shadow of the terrible knowledge that comes with age. Knowledge that I am the poorest at ignoring.

In the Style of a Bus Dweller, Fairbanks Transit No. 142

For what, if I have yet to depart among the many mastheads of Falmouth Harbor? For what, if the ferry has carried me to and from the Island, but never across the sea?

I have been far and wide in my town; found the hidden places like a maker of maps; carved my sign in white chalk atop many walls and glacial debris.

Kitchen dweller, living room busker, drinker of tea and coffee at inappropriate and strangely kept hours. These things and more I have become. I have become one to think in the ways of mystics close to death, looking for the mundane and forgotten stains on our charts.

The shoreline of our futures is rocky, and littered with forgotten hulls, which we shall one day explore like children. Through rust holes and creaking iron, we shall follow the oxidized corridor in search of meaning like a long lost and waterlogged cargo manifest; the ship’s log disintegrated in salt water.

For what, if I have never been across the ocean ti Iceland, carried by a coal steamer built at the start of the first world war? My dreams, like such laden tubs, carry me there at night. Someday perhaps, I might feel the strangeness of foreign wind; feel the home of a thousand homes, while leaving a well-loved and glowing kitchen at night, far in the distance.

Yet even here we are travelers of a home town, of the familiar and static places we lean against to better look at the clouds. In the way of a decomposing bus dweller overlooking the Sashana River, I found my way to an unexplored place, I simply forgot the map.

Perhaps that is all I will need, to complete this strange navigation.