Notes from the Beach

Sensing poetry in the waves.


The ocean, despite our human penchant for mythology, is less a god and more like a cartoon theme song: methodically upbeat, relentless, and expansive.

When we are away from its shores, we crave its comfort. When we are near it too long, familiarity breeds contempt.

Or maybe the ocean has little need for metaphor. The luxury of being immense is that most comparisons fail to produce the same awe that the thing itself induces.

Many writers bring the ocean to song, personifying the aural in the choral. Many writers bring the ocean to its natural alliterative lull: wave after wave making us remember language that repeats.

But all of this is an old saw. We’ve been nerdy about the ocean so long, no one can claim to be wholly outside its fandom.

And yet there are the terrible legacies the ocean awakens for many African Americans. The curl of white surf like some endlessly moving row of headstones. The names lost along with the ledgers.

Why, then, do I return with such joy to this nexus of cliché and horror? Why do the theme songs still slap in memory and in the lived present?

When I am walking the shore, encouraging my son and daughter to body surf, or just staring at the horizon’s late-evening eye shadow, I am more and more aware of the beautiful sublimity that doesn’t care if it is seen.

The power of rest.

Rest from a natural system that knows little of inertia. Ocean holding the whistle register of honest thought. Ocean being itself and changing without any thought to authenticity.

The ocean is an elder nerd.

Steven Leyva’s new poetry collection is The Understudy’s Handbook.

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