Campbell Corner Language Exchange

The Poetry of Tom Moore

All Ideas from the Sea

Entered on the Wall

All Ideas from the Sea


The brine shrimp tumble in a whirl of froth, their red
eyes cracking in the sun, while a sea that is full
of all that will one day come to pass in the mind

gently recedes. The children
stand knee deep in water and shriek
as the swells douse their legs with the detritus
of an eager culture. A label, for instance, from a soup can
sticks to the knee as if mated there, and a brown bottle,
unsuitable for collectors, nestles itself in gravel.

Several children are at play on this beach, which is framed
by the white rocks and pier, the latter's creosote pilings, in the sun,
slowly extruding a toxic scent, which nevertheless reminds one
of summer. The parents are gone to the white rocks

that are slanted toward the sun, and they all lay down
on their long towels to forget their malfeasances. Nothing they can be
by lying still will change them enough to rebuild the innocence of pastures--
the visit to a grandmother's farm, which was all they had
to survive the divorce, which they failed to give
to their own. Then, the sheep bayed rudely

when their children went to feed them and the black flies
were caught in her hair. And it rained.


So today on the white rocks, with the lifeguard below generally
attending to her tan, and the yelps of children not clearly distinguishable
from the noises of seals, farther down on the rocks, the parents
have nothing to do. They lie there, the salt sheen
on skins the residue of old ambitions.

If eros survives such natural conditions it may appear
later at night, when the couples, though tired, forget their roles
as breeders and think of pleasing themselves. But courting will have
to occur--not the earlier kind, but the kind of autumnal need
that expresses itself in a love of stretched skin and bodies
which would rather lie down on a floor than dance.

Then, the coming would be a relief, for both
have doubts of their own worth and relish those
moments when all the plans that might have been made
are forgotten, and the crease in the bed left by her leg
is the only sign that they've been to a place
more forgiving than sleep. Still,

they have not moved from the rocks but have been
drifting in and out of dream. There is solace in that, that
no one has been embarrassed, that the children still shriek--
some needing food, since it's only illusion they survive
as perpetual motion machines--and so

two of the parents climb down from the rocks
and call them together, and make the trek to the
nearest beach house, where a table is already set.


Above, in the wind, the gulls and terns have gathered their clams
and are dropping them on the warm rocks. As they doze,
the adults can hear the popping of shells, as if
on the bluff overlooking the beach it was
the Fourth of July and they stood, each family
a group in pictures that would suddenly exist for ever.

Sooner or later each adult will rise from the rocks and descend
to the small beach, to the children, and dive in and swim
out two hundred feet, into the true sea, which is
cold, and turn and swim back to shore.

Each child watches the parent do this and thinks
of the warnings she's heard, of the death
that is with her whenever she walks
on the pea gravel mounded at high tide,
for that is the sea's own footprint.

So she observes the mother who raises her arms
in succession, breathing every three strokes,
recede from the shore until, at the point
where the parent must choose

whether or not to return, her arms, still white, seem
no more substantial than the fringe of a silver dress.

For a time the child can't tell what the parent will do and is lost
in a game of sand. If another adult were to rise from her rock & look down
at the single child, she would think him charming, an icon
made by the goddess of scarves to amuse immortality.

Only, he is afraid that his skin is so small
she won't see him, or if, as if being in water
announced a rebirth, she will be

other than the one he has known for eight years. And,
when she does come in, lifting the towel from the beach and
drying her hair, he notices her smile is different--floating
beside her--so he comes to believe she is almost
someone new. Ah, the works and days of

adults are strange, he thinks, as she drapes
the towel on her shoulders and climbs
up again, kissing him with the sea.


The summer days are unknown to the sea,
which passes the shore, vaguely aware
of the intimate thrust of beings
who are always going in and out

of something--themselves, or its thin membrane--bodies
that are themselves mostly water and which shy
away from the sea on divergent occasions.

Perhaps making love is a way of learning
more of the sea within us, which thunders
against the skin, demanding to be let out so
it might explain its indifference. The boats
on the ocean regularly attain this kind of
transcendence, a slipping away from
the habitudes of land, and would

gladly take one along--a parent temporarily
excused from worry might step out
on a sunny, windy day, a day

of underkeeping, with the tide out
and the walk through the water to the hull
warm with the effervescence of silt, each step itself
an eddy into the future, and to sail away,
metaphorically cleansing the decks
of history. Indeed, for such

do we plunge into each other's body, wanting to be
that other, the other's history--foreign,
enchanting, but most importantly, not ours.

The sea has no history-just ideas. Perhaps
not even ideas but a gurgle of chaos that arises to spit
a pronoun into the air, which, when it falls, is
nothing again. Thus when the parents awaken
and look at the mosque-blue sky, they see
language, intentionless, almost free,

and attempt to try out the words. But the language they knew
is unfit for the new time, when the children are dead, the
energy used to reshape the world, now lost, and the
sun, having slowly declined for three billion
years, is a reddish glob. No wonder the
shoulders are cold and the sea
can't remember itself.

Now the pier is gone and the rocks have
turned black. Only, there remains in the air
an image of the pier, of something that might
have suggested a purpose, though what that was
is obscure to the free memory. So they rise from the
rocks and walk, no road sticking to their feet, no
path that leads from the beach through the
torn blackberries, up hill, passed the
brackish pools. No road, no body,
no time to be anywhere at all.


Entered on the Wall

One always returns to the garden,
not for truth, gold or archaic formulae
which, if invoked, would reset the comic

dimensions of the soul, or the Greenwich clock,
laboring as it is to hold everything in place,
or the prize of instantaneous revelation,

per Ezekiel, who struggled so with the wheels
and the four beasts, not realizing he'd tasted part
of the Sybil's wine--unintentionally, of course, but
he'd been thirsty after the long trek down from
the mountain and had found her, blackened,
on a road going into Caesarea, and she
seemed lonely (or perhaps a bit
aloof)--at any rate, she'd

offered him some and he'd taken it. So when
the clouds parted and the noise and the turning
began, he was rather nonplussed, out of his
element, no tools, standing on a road
with this strange girl, and then

he felt guilty. This is a story, he thought, that might
endure (with a little revising, with a little help
from mouths that are always discovering the
death of their own minds, and so think nothing
of insisting that truth unveil itself, much as Adam
was asked how the concept of nakedness entered into his
own), and went on with the plot, the weaving, thinking himself
a woman with blue threads and white, and time that stretched out
before her like a broad road. Thus, the garden is useful

when a vision needs to take root, not that the soil itself, or
the seeds or the tubers, or the cut vines that need grafting,
or the pruning that discovers the unknown strength of the
sap, need hands to make themselves permanent--a part of

the seasons that unsheathe themselves and shake
down seeds, like the tiny poppy (smaller than a
flake of pepper), or the apple (bitter, tasting of
arsenic). The old horse doesn't care what it
eats--currently nibbling a weed tuft at the
foot of a sere elm--its forehoves white
(but turning to gray) and its tail so worn
from swatting flies that its fibers have frayed
into a kind of dark brown fog. The water that comes

from the summer river is also brown. It spreads its hands
into the cool bay, so that a clear demarcation exists
between freshwater and salt--the soil from
the lowland farms having leached into
water, there to plant gardens in the midst
of the sound. Floating gardens they would have
to be, coming and going with the tide, like the portable
fields that bloom at the mouths of the Tigris and
Euphrates, fertile triangles and the
incense-bearing trees.

Thus, when all has come to pass you still
find yourself digging for space--

but there's no room left in the garden.
The silky pea vines, sprouts really, though
they're two feet high, observe your earnestness
as you pass by. It is all they can do

not to surrender to the sky, turning and turning
in its blue hat above them. Otherwise, the blossoms
are doing fine. Children cull them, joyfully clipping sweet
William, the marjoram, bean flower, even as
the green hooks gather in the grain
of the old shed. You lean

against the worn post that props the raspberries up
and remember the bows you used to wear, bobbing
in a sea of green and thorn. No matter how many

berries you would gather by the path
which descended to the bay--of mud feet,
of cuts from the brown crab shells--your
brothers always won the faster games.
The flats were warm that summer,
and the stringy birds shrieked
at the light of a white sun.

One white sun glared down at the sand and
driftwood, and you, with your shirt full
of berries. Some were already staining

the yellow cloth, but you ate with a patience
of a great beast stretching in the sun.