A perfect morning: Outer Banks, Ocracoke Island

The ancestors of the residents of Ocracoke Island had themselves been shipwrecked here off the coast of the Carolinas’ Outer Banks. After that they became — at least some of them — land based pirates, setting false lights to guide trading ships into the shallows where they would founder and break up, spewing their trade goods into the sea where these islanders could reap a crop of not-quite-stolen goods. Salvaged goods, I believe they would have said, here on the shores of the graveyard the Atlantic.

 

A perfect morning

softly seated in the dunes,

string of black skimmers

 

sweeps across the pool

of isolated water,

our private air show

 

in the Outer Banks.

When we get to Ocracoke,

we’ll see wild horses,

 

descendants of ones

lost to their Spanish owners,

now corralled, once free,

 

running the beaches,

graveyard of the Atlantic,

having released them

 

where later locals

sometimes lured the ships to shore

— at least to shallows —

 

where they’d break apart

and remnants of their cargo

would yield goods to trade.

 

Deceptive lanterns,

plowing and seeding the sea,

bringing a harvest,

 

rendering the sands

as fruitful as any fields.

Planters of the sea.

 

In a restaurant

we hear the accent we’ve sought.

One of the busboys,

 

voice tinted English,

kept pure through isolation,

remnant of the past

 

when those who settled

first came to these shores themselves,

their own ships broken.

 

 

Summer evening , Jamestown

 

On one of our family’s trips to Colonial Williamsburg, we toured the reconstructed Jamestown in the afternoon and in the evening, made our way across a field to this grand, but not all that prominent monument that offered thanks and recognition to the French for their help in our War for Independence. It was an impressive monument, and the evening, aglow with fireflies and browsing deer, made the whole scene idyllically unreal.

 

The monument to the French,

their help and participation

in the Revolution,

stands on a hill near Jamestown.

 

We wander from the monument

to the edge of field and forest nearby

where blinking lights of fireflies

flash amidst browsing deer,

lending an otherworldly air

to this warm summer evening

here on the heights above

the James River,

not too far from where Pocahontas

saved the life of

one John Smith.

 

 

Viking pocket change?

I picked up this nickel-sized Roman coin in a gift store in Galveston. The store had a small book of old and rare coins in cardboard and plastic sleeves, and this little ancient gem cost me only about $13, as I recall. Quite worn, but it was, after all, around 1,700 years old. And then I lost it.

 

Carried this coin

with Emperor Constantine

in my back pocket

 

(really my wallet)

for the past 10 years or so

as a reminder

 

that church/state issues

have been around a long time.

But now it’s slipped loose,

 

lost itself somewhere,

and I can’t help but wonder

what someone will think

 

when they discover

this Roman emperor’s face

staring back at them

 

from the 300s,

from ancient Rome’s coinage

found here in Cowtown.

 

What explanation

will they conjure to explain

a bit of Rome here

 

in the modern West

where Mediterranean

refers to furniture,

 

and Italian food’s

the common reference point

for things out of Rome.

 

 

 

 

 

Suspended, animated, above it all

It was a grand adventure with no down side. I found an open twin track leading to the top of the levee along the Mississippi inside New Orlean’s limits and rode along, watching freighters and ante-bellum mansions fly by below on either side of me. Just me and the river passing through commerce and history. It was grand.

 

I drove the levees

along the Mississippi

high above river.

 

No signs or chains

blocked me from one-lane levee track,

but I felt guilty

 

as I whizzed along

past antebellum mansions

along river road.

 

That Old Man River,

just rollin’ on along.

Must have done six miles

 

wondering the whole time

if I’d be stopped by police,

but fascinated

 

by sea bound traffic,

by freighters and oil tankers

and white-columned homes.

 

High above river

floating on a Buick’s tires,

commerce, history

 

flying by below

like an O’Henry story

sans surprise ending.

 

 

Ybor City dancing wounded

An historic tourist district now, Ybor City, a neighborhood of Tampa famous for its cigar rolling long before Cuban cigars would become illegal, now is lined with trendy shops and restaurants. Cubans, Spaniards, and Italians rolled millions of cigars in its factories from the 1880s to the Depression. The night I was there, I ordered paella and we watched flamenco dancers in a dinner club.

 

The flamenco dancer

twisted her ankle

middle of the three-couple dance routine.

She left the stage

of the Cuban night club in Ybor City

limping,

resisting all attempts

to comfort or support her,

her pride more wounded

than her foot.

 

Rabbits, spaceships, windmills

Almost weekly I see one or two — or more — 50- to 60-foot windmill blades, packed one to a truck on their way from factories north of us to the windmill farms of South and West Texas. It’s an amazing sight, while at the same time amusing. I hope they don’t plant them on the mesas extending from south of Abilene to the Big Bend, but there’s a great deal of landscape with fairly constant wind that won’t be scarred by their presence.

 

Giant rabbit ears

tapered to wind catching tips,

the blades are tied down

 

to the truck’s flat bed

off to where jack rabbits bound

across high deserts.

 

West Texas mesas

will be these windmills’ new home

once ears are assembled

 

into electric

generating, landscape blights.

I take some pleasure

 

thinking that complaints

similar to these must have

been spoken by the Dutch

 

who couldn’t have known

how picturesque those in our age

would find their windmills.

 

May the future folks

who flit past in their spaceships

find ours amusing.

 

 

In Flanders Fields the poppies grow…

A perfect spring day, eating crab, while looking out on Annapolis harbor, and watching the academy students in brass-buttoned blue uniforms, I’m reminded of an awful truth.

 

I’ve the perfect seat

looking out on the harbor

from the restaurant.

 

Holiday crowds mill

below my table’s perch,

soak up spring warmth.

 

At the next table

a young midshipman has lunch

with mom, grandma, brother.

 

Double rows of brass

set off the uniform’s blue,

and his face — so young.

 

And I’m reminded

that it is the young who fight

our battles for us.

 

They are so young,

their faces, so fresh, poignant,

innocent as children.

 

Three others are there,

standing on the pleasure dock

just below his arm:

 

Two guys and a gal,

each clad in blue, brass buttons.

Busman’s holiday,

 

seeing maritime sights

on Annapolis harbor,

break from Academy.

 

 

Seven-inch diameter ball of clay

Next door in Guatemala, native peoples’ crafts thrive, form a vital part of the local culture, as they continue at their looms, bright colors and patterns leaping forth. But here in Honduras, the Spanish culture has driven the crafts of natives from the center stage. When I admired a small sconce-shaped vase, hand-worked, hanging from a nuns’ residence’s wall, our photographer sneered when I asked if it were native-crafted, making some snide remark about “No, it’s ours (Spanish culture). Theirs is not so finished.” The Guatemalan woven pieces I picked up at the airport at Tegucigalpa later seemed nice enough. Racism alive and well after four centuries.

 

A ball of red clay,

its surface well worked and scarred

from her cloth’s wiping

 

color to spread here

on the bottom foot or so

of an adobe wall,

 

like those before her

in the flowing stream of years

—her ancestors.

 

She sits inside

the porch-surrounding half wall,

half in sun, half out,

 

here in Honduras,

though Indian lore has died,

its building methods live.

 

 

 

Reporter’s pad to lead to hawkers

The story is true. Seven updated city editions in one day to carry the rapid-fire updated prose of my old friend Madeline Williams. She was a beat reporter at the Star-Telegram in the days when they keyed the type in on the massive Linotype machines before pouring it in lead, into forms that could be shaped to fit the press cylinders.

 

Before the desktop,

before computers, even,

papers were the news.

 

There were no dot coms,

no TV commentators,

just newsprint and ink.

 

My friend, Madeline,

was a queen of this era,

a beat reporter.

 

She once told a tale

of a hot city council story

she kept updating.

 

Seven editions

the Linotype guy keyed in

as she dictated

 

from reporter’s pad.

Seven times they poured new type,

hot lead in galleys.

 

Ah, those were the days,

when if you didn’t tell it,

the story was lost,

 

when news bulletins

weren’t available online,

but had to be poured

 

into waiting forms

then shaped onto cylinders,

there to pick up ink

 

transferred to the page,

hot footed to the big trucks

and thence to the racks

 

and the street vendors

who hawked them to the eager

with the ink still wet,

 

shouting the headlines,

giving voice to the update

Madeline just wrote.

 

 

“Aargh! Can I take your plate, mate?”

Ocracoke accent,

300-plus years old.

English artifact

 

still on the lips of

children of the children of

those who scavenged wrecks.

 

They immigrated here

and island’s isolation

allowed them to pass

 

English dialect

one generation to next.

Though they weren’t pirates,

 

it was rumored that

some of them set false lights

to lure ships inshore

 

where the waves swamped them,

broke decks apart, holds open.

Rest is history

 

— or economy.

They salvaged what goods they could,

made their living from

 

others’ disasters.

No need to leave their island:

the sea met their needs.

 

In a restaurant

we heard the accent spoken.

He wore no eye patch;

 

he had no peg leg.

Though he’d descended from them.

he just bussed tables.