They were talking to him about resurrection, about law,
about the suffering ahead.
They were talking as if to remind him who he was and
who they were. He was not
Like his three friends watching a little way off, not like
At the foot of the hill. A gray-green thunderhead massed
from the sea
And God spoke from it and said he was his. They were
About how the body, broken or burned, could live again,
Only the fiery text of the thunderhead could explain it.
And they were talking
About pain and the need for judgement and how he would
A law of pain, both its spirit and its letter in his own flesh,
and then break it,
That is, transcend it. His clothes flared like magnesium,
as they talked.
Descriptions of Heaven and Hell
The wave breaks
And I'm carried into it.
This is hell, I know,
Yet my father laughs,
Chest-deep, proving I'm wrong.
We're safely rooted,
Rocked on his toes.
Nothing irked him more
Than asking, "What is there
His theory once was
That love greets you,
And the loveless
Don't know what to say.
Is nothing real but when I was fifteen,
Going on sixteen, like a corny song?
I see myself so clearly then, and painfully--
Knees bleeding through my usher's uniform
Behind the candy counter in the theater
After a morning's surfing; paddling frantically
To top the brisk outsiders coming to wreck me,
Trundle me clumsily along the beach floor's
Gravel and sand; my knees aching with salt.
Is that all I have to write about?
You write about the life that's vividest.
And if that is your own, that is your subject.
And if the years before and after sixteen
Are colorless as salt and taste like sand--
Return to those remembered chilly mornings,
The light spreading like a great skin on the water,
And the blue water scalloped with wind-ridges,
And--what was it exactly?--that slow waiting
When, to invigorate yourself, you peed
Inside your bathing suit and felt the warmth
Crawl all around your hips and thighs,
And the first set rolled in and the water level
Rose in expectancy, and the sun struck
The water surface like a brassy palm,
Flat and gonglike, and the wave face formed.
Yes. But that was a summer so removed
In time, so specially peculiar to my life,
Why would I want to write about it again?
There was a day or two when, paddling out,
An older boy who had just graduated
And grown a great blonde moustache, like a walrus,
Skimmed past me like a smooth machine on the water,
And said my name. I was so much younger,
To be identified by one like him--
The easy deference of a kind of god
Who also went to church where I did--made me
Reconsider my worth. I had been noticed.
He soon was a small figure crossing waves,
The shawling crest surrounding him with spray,
Whiter than gull feathers. He had said my name
Without scorn, just with a bit of surprise
To notice me among those trying the big waves
Of the morning break. His name is carved now
On the black wall in Washington, the frozen wave
That grievers cross to find a name or names.
I knew him as I say I knew him, then,
Which wasn't very well. My father preached
His funeral. He came home in a bag
That may have mixed in pieces of his squad.
Yes, I can write about a lot of things
Besides the summer that I turned sixteen.
But that's my ground swell. I must start
Where things began to happen and I knew it.
In Ball's Market after surfing till noon,
We stand in wet trunks, shivering,
As icing dissolves off our sweet rolls
Inside the heat-blued counter oven,
When they appear on his portable TV,
Riding a float of chiffon as frothy
As the peeling curl of a wave.
The parade m. c. talks up their hits
And their new houses outside of Detroit,
And old Ball clicks his tongue.
Gloved up to their elbows, their hands raised
Toward us palm out, they sing,
"Stop! In the Name of Love," and don't stop,
But slip into the lower foreground.
Every day of a summer can turn,
From one moment, into a single day.
I saw Diana Ross in her first film
Play a brief scene by the Pacific--
And that was the summer it brought back.
Mornings we paddled out, the waves
Would be little more than embellishments--
Lathework and spun glass,
Gray-green with cold, but flawless.
When the sun burned through the light fog,
They would warm and swell,
Wind-scaled and ragged,
And radios up and down the beach
Would burst on with her voice.
She must remember that summer
Somewhat differently.And so must the two
Who sang with her in long matching gowns,
Standing a step back on her left and right,
As the camera tracked them
Into our eyes in Ball's Market.
But what could we know, tanned white boys,
Wiping sugar and salt from our mouths,
And leaning forward to feel their song?
Not much, except to feel it
Ravel us up like a wave
In the silk of white water,
Simply, sweetly, repeatedly,
And just as quickly let go.
We didn't stop either, which is how
We vanished, too, parting like spray--
Ball's Market, my friends and I.
Dredgers ruined the waves,
Those continuous dawn perfections,
And Ball sold high to the high rises
Cresting over them.His flight out of L.A.,
Heading for Vegas, would have banked
Above the wavering lines of surf.
He may have seen them.I have,
Leaving again for points north and east,
Glancing down as the plane turns.
From that height they still look frail and frozen,
Full of simple sweetness and repetition.