El Porto, 1969

Santa Monica Bay, water like lead

ladled from a plumber’s melting pot.

Fog spills oily blue

foam fills with air, pulls some green under.

Close in, swells steam and foam, a salty dough of seaweed.

Waterers wax boards, paddle out north end at 45th Street, first smoky light, shadows of refinery plant, dunes still in shade, covered in olive drab.

The surfers paddle out, into the surf.
They work the waves like fishermen,
air full of flush, gush, white hissing bass horns,
trembling treble flourish finish.

Silence

falls

like a whale sounding, in a long lull,
     water like coffee with milk and honey
          where the waves churn the sandy bottom.

A surfer trio returns to the beach, short paddle from small waves now high tide,

rolled waves rope caulked and cold chisel hammered.

The surfers lift their boards into a truck, laughing in wet trunks, salted muscle, and tussled hair. The surfers never grow weary of waves, dancing drones under a lemon yellow flower. The waves open blue, break lime green, fall white

in simple declarative sentences
of plumbed gist, of easy escape.

“The strand and the waves exist no more,

the summer is dead,” Samuel Beckett said.

Los Angeles, South Santa Monica Bay, beach city surf, Strand cruise Hermosa to El Porto, royal blue bicycle paddling along, waves closed out bass lines, high spring tide, full moon.

Angel’s eyes perpetually open,
losing particles of neon green light,
Mister Jama quick walking Chaplinesque,
black dressed for snow, Silence caged in his palms.

Swells slumber under mounds of silver paint,
disheveled waves chiseled from lead cakes,
grunion running in surf fanning the beach
full of lustrous flickers in the moon glow.

The surfer girls come and go, come and go,
singing of clothes in forget-me-not lingo,
walking the beach in blue and gold.

 

At night they tape their hair to their cheeks
to hold the curl, the surfer boys
long to know, long to know.

The Strand bars net the last generation, inside, drinking beer, surfboards against the wall, bleached parasols, a few surf waves still, but figuratively, as if one finds waves in some oceanic dictionary, listening for the mermaid’s music in books.

The surfer hears the buzz of his own skeg humming
across the pages, heavy sets, far out.
Turning right on the corona’s shoulder
the surfer grows a little older, the water somewhat colder.

Flour soup brushes up the dusty beach after the sun falls.
First light the beach dustless after all night off shore blow,
the water glassed off, air clear to Malibu north,
Palos Verdes south.

A bloom of waves spills and flows over the beach,

foaming across the bleached sand as the tide rises,

smooth after the offshore wind blowing all night long,

the morning water crystal, waves flapping like sheets,

an airy fuss slapping movement then a quick flip,

and the rush of fish smell mixed with wax and salt and hair and skin.

Surfers like a swarm of dragonflies crowd the waves,

empty at first light, then three California pelicans

swooping low in a line over the edge of the break,

blessing surfers believing in waves,

sitting on their boards just outside the break.

One takes off on a gray-blue glossy pearl,

but this surfer should be somewhere else,

sees an expressionless ocean,
does not believe in waves,
upside-down in the surf,
carving and cutting too hard,
this surfer rides this wave
like it’s not the wave he wants,
so he throws it away,a discarded piece of waste paper.
He bolts the wave to chalk
flounces about, his board flotsam.
This surfer flouts about
and scorns the sea.

He does not truly believe in the ocean.

He does not flower with the waves,

and a dark brack rises

and takes him away.

And the Summer dies.

The strand and waves exist no more,

the summer is dead,”

Samuel Beckett said,

and the surfer believed him.

The dead sun did not matter.

He lost his surfboard, lost the path to the beach, what waves there far beyond his reach. Wave peepers came and pushed him away. He slept in ditches. They even took his bicycle. No technology could save him anyway.

He sat at an intersection,
with a cardboard sign that read,
“Won’t you please help
a surfer with no wave?”

A woman stopped, rolled down her window,
and blew him a kiss that fizzed like a wave,
and to thank her, he wrote this:

  1. Nothing makes sense
  2. in a waveless universe,
  3. where surfers ride beams of light
  4. on virtual surfboards.

    Many anecdotes followed.

This one’s about a surfer who stuck with it, tried glass and glue but tossed all that, painted houses in the afternoons, surfed mornings and evenings. This surfer had a feel for boards, loved the way the resin and glass felt watery smooth and clean, bright surf shop stickers buried beneath wax. This surfer believed in waves, was a generous local, too,

didn’t want to fight, was easily satisfied with a simple sea, lived a slow life, long days, in the bowl of Santa Monica Bay, loved the sun, water, salt beaches, the surf songs The Waves sang.

The Waves were a beach band, paddled out brittle surf songs on metallico Teles and Jazzmaster bass, drums the speed of breaking waves.

That’s it, not much more.
The surfer got drafted,
went away to war
came back, went into Insurance,

said he would never forget

the last wave he ever surfed,

after which he felt he’d never grow old,

then he left the beach for the rain and cold.

“Things as they are
Are changed upon the blue guitar,” Wallace Stevens said.

The surfer placed a board in Los Angeles,
and long it was, upon a wave,
it made the disheveled surf
array in dressed lines.

The surf surrounded him,
the board glassed upon the wave
like a poem,
like Apollinaire.

It seemed all cool but absurd,
breathless, and dead,
not like a bird or a fish,
like nothing else in Los Angeles.

Then he added something more,
a man upon the board,
and filled the waves with bicycles,
perpendicular.

The waves grew somber, the beach cold,
the surfboard a splinter in the wave’s skin.
The surfer fell, it was Fall after all,
and found himself alone at the end of a pier.

He was free to swim to shore,
yet felt a curious fatigue engulf him,
a surfer’s anxiety,
for from the beach the waves lacked this intensity.

He paddled toward shore,
but a riptide pulled him away and away.
He treaded water, drifting.
He lost sight of land.

The sun fell, and no moon rose.
The waves met the night.
They broke in the sky
and rained down a dark salt.

The surfer clung to his board,
flotsam and jetsam floated by,
old rusted bicycle parts,
useless in the waves.

There were no fish, no birds,
no beach, no palms.
The surfer drifted in the inky night sea
below a blue black salt lick night sky.

He thought he saw a light, the light rose,
rose or fell, he was not sure,
if he floated in water or in air.
His surfboard disappeared.

Storm surf flushed chaos across the beach.
I waited for the surfer to return,
I went to work shaping and glassing a new surfboard.
Every evening, I walk down to the water

and watch the waves for his dancing legs,
his leaning stretch, his tumbling shadow,
his crouch, his ocean filled gills.

Roddy Doyle’s “The Guts”

They were sitting in the living room, sharing stuff.
– Your man Roddy Doyle has a new book.
– I don’t have a man.
– It’s just an expression. It’s Irish.
– Are there any Sheas in the new book?
– That’s El Porto Irish.
– What’s my man’s new book about?
– Your man Jimmy Rabbitte is back.
– How old is Jimmy, now?
– Pullin’ 50.
– I might have known. Does my man have a woman?
– He does, and children, too.
– Sounds like a family affair.
– And Imelda is back, too.
– Who is Imelda?
– That’s what Aoife wanted to know.
– What?
– Aoife, Jimmy’s wife. It’s an Irish name. I had to look it up. It’s pronounced EE-fa, long e followed by f then schwa, the a the schwa sound, you know? The upside-down e.
– And is the F word back as well?
– It is, but somewhat diminished. Though it climbs toward the end. Not a main character in this one like it was in The Commitments, the F word.
– So Jimmy’s a wife, then?
– And children.
– Is it good, then, your man’s new book?
– It is. I’ve never read anything by Roddy Doyle that was not good.
– But didn’t Roddy dis your man James Joyce?
– Roddy Doyle did not dis James Joyce. He was merely pointin’ out there are other Irish writers besides James Joyce.
– Includin’ Roddy Doyle.
– Roddy uses the Joyce style quote marks, no quote marks, the dash to start off dialog, you know? And he’s a master at the stream of talk.
– Is there music in this one, like in The Commitments?
– There’s music, yes.
– Is Van Morrison in the new book?
– No, I don’t recall mention of Van the man.
– Your man Roddy probably thinks of Van Morrison the same way he thinks of Joyce.
– Maybe. I don’t know. But I get your point.
– So what does Jimmy Rabbitte do in Roddy Doyle’s new book?
– Come here. I want you to read it, Roddy Doyle’s new book.
– Come here?
– It’s another Irish expression, apparently. But I think it’s only used when you’re on the phone. It’s like a head’s up you’re going to get some request for a favor, or it’s a signal that something serious is about to be said. I’m not sure. But like Jimmy’s on the phone to his Da –
– His who?
– His Da, his Dad, his father. Fathers are what happen to young lads. And Jimmy says, Come here. Can I borrow your car for the weekend?
– He’s pushin’ 50 and he’s after borrowing his father’s car?
– Isn’t that very El Porto Irish of you. They’ve only one rig, and they need two to drive to one of those outdoor concert festivals.
– So music is what this new Roddy Doyle book is all about?
– No, not first and foremost. But come here. I want you to read it.
– You haven’t told me what it’s about yet.
– Remember that movie we watched, The Pope’s Toilet?
– No. Is your man the new pope in Roddy’s new book?
– Never mind. Your eyes are a pretty blue, a powdery, baby blue.
– Compliments will get you nowhere.
– Fair play. Jimmy has no friends, either.
– I might have known. You and James and Jimmy and Roddy should all get together for a pint.
– Wouldn’t that be something?
– You think your man Roddy reads your blog? You going to post a review of his new book?
– He first self-published The Commitments, you know.
– But he’s not still self-publishing.
– I guess not.
– You think he reads blogs?
– There’s a funny scene in the new book, where Jimmy goes back to work after being away for a time, and he’s got like hundreds of emails waiting for him, and he deletes all the distractions he’s subscribed to, without looking at them. That’s the Internet. Subscribe to something, like you’re following it, but never look at it except to delete the update. But there’s mention of blog, I think. I forget. But yeah, there’s mention of a blog.
– You usually circle that sort of thing.
– No marginalia in this one, dear. I didn’t want to mess it up for you. Come here. I’m after askin’ you to give it a read.
– Why?
– I don’t know.
– What’s it called, Roddy’s new book?
– The Guts.
– The Guts? So what’s it about, finally, The Guts?
– It’s about courage, maybe, the courage of the ordinary.
– Is courage getting good reviews these days?
– There are plenty of regular reviews of The Guts out there readers can check out. I’m going to post this.
– What?
– Our conversation.
– That ought to nail it.
– I love the ground you walk upon.
– Go away. Go blog or something.

Roddy Doyle, “The Guts,” ISBN 9780670016433 | 336 pages | 23 Jan 2014 | Viking Adult | 6.29 x 9.33in

Two Ocean Surfing Poems at Berfrois – and a gallery of old ocean photos

“Ray, 1956” and “Watermarks from a Night Spring,” two poems with themes of the ocean, surfing, and working, were posted at Berfrois a couple of days ago, along with a few old surf photos.

Paddle on over to Berfrois and check out the surf poems.

And below find a gallery with more photos from the late 60’s thru mid 70’s. Most of these photos were taken with an Exakta 500 single-lens reflex camera (East German), with a 120 portrait lens, both purchased used and cheap to take surfing photos at local spots on Santa Monica Bay. Most are scanned from slides, Kodachrome or Ektachrome, and one is from a black and white print. The portrait lens was an affordable workaround at the time used as a kind of telephoto, and it worked ok. The camera was abused though, tossed in the sand, and over time the shutter began to stick. The photos starting coming out black. Some viewers may feel these the best photos. See etched drawing on one of the black slides. These are not “big” waves, and the surfers are locals, but the ocean is huge and alive and old and every morning new. Click any photo to see the gallery. And don’t forget to check out the poems.

Related: Watermarks from a Night Spring & Ray, 1956

Watermarks from a Night Spring

Embers of a partially burned ocean
In a box in a dank basement molting notes
A weathered surfer slowly descends the creaking

Worn stairs, dark swells yawning
Fish eyed and barnacle knuckled he climbs
Finds and opens the box, peers in, smells the pages

Runs salted fingers over the raised words
Rusting paper clips, chiseled letters in Courier font
Fading beached seagulls washing away in an incoming tide

Wired spiraled journaled waves
Bleaching across the page ink in water
Blistering sun burnt tattoos on old shivered skin

He can no longer read without bottled glasses
He chuckles, the tide receding washing scouring
White out rocks across words stuck buried in red tide pools

Breathing with a snorkel
The surfer leers over the smoldering sea
Takes up the seaweed soiled waxed manuscript

And paddles out of the basement
Walks down to the beach and what remains
Of the water and casts out the paper fish net

Into a set of scaling waves
Lit with a lustrous industrial moon
The waves curling letters in blue neon.

(Click any photo to view gallery)

Ray, 1956

He feared drowning. He fell asleep on the bus,
sleeping past his stop, and on down to Redondo Beach,
the waves breaking, hard on hearing.

He slept past the beach break at El Porto,
his head bouncing against the beach-side window,
his tools jiggling in his toolbox at his feet,
past the Manhattan Beach Pier,
the Hermosa Biltmore Hotel,
the Hermosa pier, on down to Redondo.

The bus driver would have to speak up.
The evening water was glassing off,
the Strand bars filling with surfers,
their cream yellow and orange and blue surfboards standing
against cars, walls, wet, dirty sand waxed.

He dreamed of fish, bottled beer, oysters.
He dreamed of broiled eel,
of yellowtail garnished with scallops,
dreams he did not understand.

A giant squid rose from a thick gelled water
and reached up for him, and he quick stroked
in his sleep on the bus to dog paddle away,
back to Shively, the house near the railroad tracks,
where he’d built out the basement room in knotty pine.

He awoke on the bus in Redondo Beach,
at the end of the line, foggy out now,
the sound of the surf muffled
in his ears. Flying fish eggs
surrounded his tired and dozed head,
his hair closely cropped,
his clothes dirty from the day’s work.
He’d returned the car, a ’56 Plymouth,
and salt filled his ears.

To the Reader Staring at a Paywall

45th Street, El Porto, Circa 1976

45th Street, El Porto, mid-1970’s, looking north toward El Segundo’s Standard Oil Pier.

Behind this wall of paper lives a poem no subscription will reveal. The poem is invisible. No journal can hold this poem. There is no log-in, no fee, no access, yet the poem is free. The words spill into the paper like seawater over a levee. This poem must be imagined. Later, after the reader leaves this book-less library, a pinch of dry salt will be enough to recall this poem.

New Excerpt from “Penina’s Letters” at the Boulevard

An excerpt from Chapter Six, “Light and Sculpture from a Surfboard on Santa Monica Bay,” from the novel Penina’s Letters, is now up in Issue # 5: Special Issue: Liberation, of The Boulevard, a publication of the Attic Institute.

Related Posts: Penina’s Letters at The Boulevard“Penina’s Letters”: Hawthorne Fellows at the Attic Institute.