Friday, September 9, 2011

Poetry Friday: The Beach

Just got back from a week at the beach with my daughter, her husband, my grandson, my mom, my sister, my brother, my cousin (who paddled in by kayak!)  my youngest son, his girlfriend and her son, and my own husband. Glorious, glorious...really, is there anything more wonderful than the combination of family, beach and summer? Saltwater, tickle crabs, oysters, eagles, barnacles, driftwood, agates, sand dollars, campfires, hot dogs and s'mores, a sky full of stars, high tide, low tide? 

Here are two poems by the late Nelson Bentley, former professor of creative writing at the University of Washington, a generous-spirited man who seems to have felt the same way I feel about seeing people I love on the beach. I am thinking of all this not only because of our wonderful gathering out near Gig Harbor, but because of the ache I feel knowing that the tenth anniversary of 9/11 is on Sunday. My heart goes out again to everyone who lost people they loved that day.

Zero Tide 

I walked from our cabin into the wet dawn
To see the white caps modulating in,
The slow wash of the word in the beginning:
Wind on the bowing sedge seemed from Japan.
A cloud of sandpipers wavered above the dune,
Where surf spoke the permanence of sun.
Back inside, I sat on my son's bed
Where he sweetly slept, guarded by saints and poets,
Oceanic sunrise on his eyelids;
I whispered, "Sean, get up! It's a clamming tide,"
And thought of chill sand fresh from lowering waters,
Foam-bubbled frets across the hard-packed ridges.
"Sean, it's a zero tide!" From a still second,
He came out of the covers like a hummingbird.
"Don't wake up Julian." In the pale blue light
He dressed in whirring silence, all intent.
Along the empty coast the combers hummed:
Sleepy gulls mewled in the clearing mist.
My wife and baby slept folded in singing calm,
Involuted by love as rose or shell.


Washington Coast

I stand on shards of clam while Sean
Filling his circus pail with sand
Kneels in the shelter of a dune:
Gentle as a rose his hand
Scoops and lifts the fluted shell.
A monotone lives in the sedge,
A mile from any daffodil.
Beth, far down the ocean edge,
Hunts agates, imaged in the glaze:
Charms from underneath the tide.
Love impels me to compose.
Gulls knit the waves' infinitude.
Though I have shot no living thing
A hunting cap keeps warm my ears,
An ocean in the spiraling:
I aim a pencil down the years. 

The Poetry Friday round-up this week is over at Secrets and Sharing Soda. Head over there to see what other people have posted.  



  1. I absolutely love these two beach poems. Thanks for sharing, Julie. I need to seek out more poems by Nelson Bentley. I tried to catch a similar spirit in "Beachcomber" (though not nearly as successfully):

  2. Julie,

    My husband and I spent a week on Westport Island in Maine with my daughter, son-in-law, and my new granddaughter recently. Two good friends joined us for the weekend--and one of my husband's cousins spent two nights with us. We headed north just ahead of Hurricane Irene. Even though Westport Island didn't seem to be hit hard by the storm, we lost electricity for nearly two days. It was tough being without water for that period of time. Still, we managed to have a fabulous time--and the weather was glorious after the storm passed. Spending time with family and friends in a place I love on the water is the best kind of vacation as far as I'm concerned.

    Love the poems!

  3. Hi Julie, thanks for sharing my dad's work. I still remember clamming with him near Westport, WA. (I did the digging, he was composing the poem!) One note, that should be "pale blue" rather than "ale blue," despite his love of Budweiser.
    - cheers, Sean Bentley

  4. Thank you, Sean - I've made the correction. And for other people reading, Sean is a wonderful poet himself. You can read his moving poem "Missile Creek" (from his book Grace and Desolation) here: