Deep Listening

I’ve had a lot of questions recently about how I write. I listen deeply, and then the floodgates open.

The landscape is different but always the same. The tide is high or low, lapping the shore or booming chased by the wind, but always the tide. The sand is a soft carpet, a million tiny pieces worn from parent rocks of distant times, sometimes wet, sometimes dry, but always under your feet.

I’ve heard the sand whistle.

A fish washes up, a keening gull drops a clam, it smashes on the low tide rocks, and a meal is served.

The crows are a Greek chorus, chortling from low trees.

Your feet splash and leave prints on the flats that are gone when you return.

These are the sounds of poetry.

Deep listening on the ocean

To write a poem, you must listen deeply and inhabit your subject.

Befriend a tree. Sit with it and listen. In time you’ll hear its story, and if you listen well, you might, for a time, become the tree.

It’s a form of shapeshifting.

The magic is in the listening and the becoming. Become your subject, and return to write about it.

I’ve had a lot of questions recently about how I write. I listen deeply, and then the floodgates open.

I’ve been driving through traffic and said to the child in the backseat, quick! find a piece of paper and a pen, write this down! Luckily the car always provides the needed materials.

I’ve jumped out of the bathtub with an entire new poem. Water seems to aid creation, and why not? We come from the sea, and we float in water for our first nine months.

I have fragments scribbled on napkins, envelopes, and pretty much anything to hand. It looks messy, but it isn’t.

This is what a first draft looks like

Walk the place you love most each day.

Listen. Watch. Inhabit.

I am not on the ocean right now, so I am listening deeply inland, along freshwater woods and fields. At first, it didn’t smell right, no salt, and I didn’t know the birds.

Freshwater deep listening

But I’m listening and slowly shifting, and new things are coming.

You can read Mary Petiet’s poems in Moon Tide and Owl Magic.

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Cat Poems

No birds were hurt in the writing of this blog.

Fall winds are blowing in the Netherlands. It rained and hailed last night, and the dark is falling earlier.  The recent equinox of September 22 offered a rare moment of balance in an increasingly unbalanced world, and I for one grabbed it!

Fall is subtle here. It creeps in on foggy cat feet as the trees turn slowly russet and yellow. 

Dutch fall

At the moment, the huge old oak behind my house is welcoming hundreds of swallows as they migrate south to warmer climes. My cat watches them, but his hopes are thwarted by the warning bell he wears around his neck, the unfortunate consequence of hunting too well.

The cat’s name is Pip and he started life in a parking lot in Hyannis on Cape Cod, from which he was rescued as a very small kitten. Later, I brought him home from the SPCA because I needed a good mouser in my old farmhouse. Later still, Pip made the trip to the Netherlands with us and now he is a popular sight in the neighborhood. 

If he could speak, he’d probably tell you the bell on his collar is his biggest problem. 

Pip

Pip’s prowess as a hunter is legendary. I imagine he has quite a reputation in cat circles, so I wrote a short poem about him in Moon Tide called Four Feathers, after the gift he very proudly left me early one morning several falls ago.

Pip’s bell warns the birds effectively of his approach, so I can guarantee no birds were hurt in the writing of this blog.

Read more in Moon Tide: Cape Cod Poems

Time, Rocks, and Endurance

When you sit on my porch you’re really sitting with Rock.

A long time ago, a retreating glacier left a huge rock in my front yard.

Rock

For all I know, 

Rock goes deep into the earth

possibly emerging in China…

~Excerpts are from the poem Rock in Moon Tide: Cape Cod Poems

When you sit on my porch you’re really sitting with Rock. In summer, soft green lichen covers its top. In winter it stands above the snowline, and kids like to climb upon it playing king of the mountain. 

We live atop a scene of ancient devastation.

A long time ago, Cape Cod was born of retreating ice.

Before the trees, the road, and the house, the rock was here, and after all of today’s uncertainties, the rock will still be here.

Like the sky above and the ocean that surrounds the Cape, Rock sits in mute testament to endurance.

The sky and the ocean.

Does Rock remember?

Perhaps. 

Do we remember?

Absolutely.

Low tide reveals ancient glacial rocks on a Cape Cod beach.

To sit with rock is to remember the long game, the endless bend and stretch of time. Rock is of the eons and surely full of stories.

We are of this moment, and also full of stories, and we share with Rock this capacity to endure. 

Read Rock’s whole story in Moon Tide: Cape Cod Poems.

Dog Tales

You can never be sure what you’ll find…

Every so often, Cape Codders think about declaring an independent state. It’s a fine idea. The place is unique enough to warrant statehood, but it hasn’t flown yet.

It’s really just a big beach.

As Labor Day weekend winds down, I’m wondering from an off-Cape vantage if instead of statehood, the Cape shouldn’t have its own calendar.

Cape Codders know fall does not start locally with the equinox on the astronomical first day of fall, which occurs this year on September 22. Instead, it begins on Labor Day weekend when summer people depart, and locals get the place back again.

It’s a magical moment of sudden quiet at the end of a long, hot, busy summer.

It’s also the moment dogs are allowed back on the beach, and there is nothing finer than beachcombing with a good dog. You can never be sure what you’ll find.

My black pointer lab mix Daisy loved the ocean, and I think her best find ever was a large quahog she dug out of the low tide flats. When she trotted back to me with this treasure, I opened it with a rock, and she savored every bite of the delicate meat inside. She loved seafood.

I have found all kinds of things on the beach over the years, and the best find is always a horseshoe crab because they are so rare now. The worst is litter. Some of it’s useful, such as the new life jacket I found wedged by the tide into a breakwater. Some of it’s tragic, like the dead seal that washed up occasioning a visit from the environmental police, and some of it’s just plain sad, like the garbage.

Most of the time Cape beaches are beautiful and pristine. You find the odd bit of plastic and pick it up, problem solved. But once, a few falls ago after Labor Day, we were out walking the beach on an incoming moon tide driven by a strong northeast wind, and I found more trash than we could carry. It was a stark reminder of two things: the oncoming winter and what is floating around out there that shouldn’t be.

So I wrote a poem about it.

Special Labor Day Reading of the poem Beach Debris, from Moon Tide: Cape Cod Poems.

Moon Tide tells Cape Cod stories and is available on Amazon.