Town of Chilmark

Waiting for Whales

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

So wide a dream, so
warm and dry the hand
of my father holding

my young girl hand.
How long did we stand,
staring at those waves?

Do you see the whale,
dear, do you see it right
there—a humpback whale!

Yes, yes, I do, let’s
stay here forever and
see if we can see them.

May the Hills

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

May, and the hills
May the hills
May the hills receive you
May the hills revive you

The sweet grass
The sweet grass rolling
Surge of wind
Reaching our hearts

The hills are green
The hills green again
The herring are running
Shadbush in bloom

Half-house on the hill
New lambs in the grass
The tide is in
Walk to the water

These hills, these waves, this town.

Making the Rip

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The fifth-graders of the Chilmark School are explaining
divisions within the group of mollusks, cuttlefish,
oysters to the town’s fishermen, chairs set in a dorsal fin.

They listen intently as Owen describes the sword
of the swordfish cutting through the water, as Katy details
the dangers of long-lining, Deborah, the principal beaming.

And a hundred residents of the town catch these men
at their best, in plaid shirts on a Sunday afternoon, here
for something we love: fishermen telling stories.

“What’s the biggest fish you ever caught?” We see the glint
of the dart or lily in Greg Mayhew’s eyes as they remember
together, “My goodness, dressed out 525 lbs. as I recall.”

Others remember 608, 618, early days of fishing, early
mornings:“We went up on this fish, hanging down deep . . .
fourteen
tons of ice in the hold,” hooked to stern for

tuna and the blue, blue of the swordfish, as Herbert calmly
says, “Nothing prettier than a swordfish in the water.”
One to starboard, two to port, three to strike, and drive

that pole down. Louie Larsen muses, “It was work,
and that was fun.” Song of the striker, quahogs,
cherrystones from Clam Point and pulling the traps.

We see the good wave of Bob Flanders, the Unicorn,
Jimmy Morgan pulling in and Jonathan Mayhew smiling.
And the secrets they kept from their fathers: no one tells you

where they go, but you want to go, go out,
waiting for summer, the kids waiting for summer,
squid-jigging, stripers, bluefish . . . Eric Cottle tells us,

“At fourteen, I needed a work certificate to get on
Benjamin Mayhew’s boat. Without it, he wouldn’t let me
work. I couldn’t wait for summer and school to be over—

there’s nothing else I ever wanted to do.” We come about.
Waiting for summer, waiting to drop the lines,
reeling it in.  “. . . nothing else I ever wanted to do.”

Lace Stone Walls

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Mud and clay caked
in cold crevices of
their scraped hands—

two bending men placing
a stone in the hollow
of two stones, one rock

on two rocks the length
of the wall—there’s strength
in movement. Lace wall

or farmers’, they leveled
with the land, building wide
as stone to stone allowed;

lace walls for hilltops,
leaving uneven spaces,
holes for the wind—

no art, just the ordinary
lifting up of what’s
deepest, stiles to climb—

chattered slate of sky
through a loose knit
of weathered stone.

Menemsha Bight

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

To begin on the beat, at the bight, on the beat behind
the beat, the wave beneath the wave, the cormorant low
over Menemsha Sound—Quenames, the long fish, Quansoo,
the great spreading out place, Squibnocket, where the red
ground nut grows. Names of movement and places of speech
before the words, the middle line of word and work, horizon
where the water meets the pale sky and fastens our voice
to the joining and separation, reams of pressed color.
Hand to lift and the word unspoken, entries of expenses—
to wheate, to flower, to buter, to shuger, broken phrases
and sharpened tools: the chisel and slick, timber and shingle,
planks of cut nails, stone drill and wedges to split granite.
Thrill of the diving waves, full howl of the wind across Quitsa,
Stonewall, Roaring Brook, scrape of brick on the deck
of the schooner, bowsprit and mast, harpoon and ratlines,
four at the oars and fired clay to build—Mayhew, Allen, Hunt,
brown bread and black tea, wool and flax—Tilton and Thacher,
frost on the pastures in December—Basset, Higgins, Skiffe,
the first families in town, snowy egret in the scrub oak,
blossoms on the wild pear, the sweep of full tides, curve
of the dunes, lace walls and sheep stepping to the sea,
the slide of smoothed stones, hornbeam and honey locust,
glacial shove against the dark soil, decoys on the mantel,
high fires in the keeping room, hymn of the spinning wheel,
a white pony walking in snow to the swung gate.

What lines against the sky, hip on gable, the pale yellow
of the open barn, lines on the land bound by water, cadence
of waves curling in threes, formed sentence of a holly tree
in the cool fog, union of sound and shape, spliced lines
of ancient ties of work and deed, faces of men and women
joined with other men and women—I give you this land
to work, I give you this work on the land, the plough and saw,
wagon and yoke, cattle huddled in the wind, hay in the fields.
I give you this work on the water, lobster and oyster, swordfish
and striper, osprey and tern, joy of making the rip at dusk.
I give you the winding creek and high bush blueberry, beach plum
and rosa rugosa. I give you the drink of water in the morning
from Tiasquam, the trout in Pease’s Brook, Weaquabsqua,
Keepehiggon, Fulling Mill, I give you sand and clay, words
which we have not yet formed, but speak in our lives, a bow
to neighbor, extending a hand by what is left unsaid.