Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Poetry of the Pacific, Day 1

This weekend I am giving two papers at a conference in San Francisco--and I managed to convince Dear Husband to take the weekend off to come with me. (SF was our first choice for a honeymoon, but we ditched it when the baseball schedules didn't jive, so it's been on our bucket list since then.) We're going a little early to do some sightseeing, and then DH will explore on his own while I'm attending panels. I'll post some photos later, but for now, I am so excited about seeing/standing in the Pacific Ocean that I found a series of poems about that great body of water (and the sights around it) and will post one per day. Also, April is National Poetry Month, so consider this my contribution to the celebration of verse.

Because we are traveling today, the first installment is "The Discovery of the Pacific," a poem by Anglo-American poet Thom Gunn (1929-2004), who followed his college sweetheart Mike Kitay to San Francisco. He taught writing at Stanford University and University of California-Berkeley and is most well known for his collection of poems entitled The Man with Night Sweats (1992). Although his work was often an autobiographical catalog of his bohemian lifestyle, this poem only partially fits that pattern. It involves a heterosexual couple, but one that finds its true nature as they move westward, toward and finally into the Pacific Ocean. Found on the blog Wandering Minstrels.

The Discovery of the Pacific

They lean against the cooling car, backs pressed
Upon the dusts of a brown continent,
And watch the sun, now Westward of their West,
Fall to the ocean. Where it led they went.

Kansas to California. Day by day
They travelled emptier of the things they knew.
They improvised new habits on the way,
But lost the occasions, and then lost them too.

One night, no-one and nowhere, she had woken
To resin-smell and to the firs' slight sound,
And through their sleeping-bag had felt the broken
Tight-knotted surfaces of the naked ground.

Only his lean quiet body cupping hers
Kept her from it, the extreme chill. By degrees
She fell asleep. Around them in the firs
The wind probed, tiding through forked estuaries.

And now their skin is caked with road, the grime
Merely reflecting sunlight as it fails.
They leave their clothes among the rocks they climb,
Blunt leaves of iceplant nuzzle at their soles.

Now they stand chin-deep in the sway of ocean,
Firm West, two stringy bodies face to face,
And come, together, in the water's motion,
The full caught pause of their embrace.

Jim Kucharek Photography: Misc. &emdash; Iceplant along the Monterey California coast 
Iceplant along the Monterey California coast; credit Jim Kucharek.

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