Tim Tomlinson is a co-founder of New York Writers Workshop, and co-author of its popular text, The Portable MFA in Creative Writing. Recent work appears or is forthcoming in Asia Writes, Floorboard Review, InterlitQ, Mandala Journal, The New Poet, Prick of the Spindle, riverbabble, Pank, the New York Quarterly, and the anthology Long Island Noir (Akashic Books). His poem “Blue Surge, with Prokoviev,” in Sea Stories, has been nominated for Sundress Publications’ Best of the Net 2011.
On mescaline we walked close to the dunes
where terns nested. They swung into the sky
and dove like arrows aimed straight at our heads.
I wasn’t sure if it was happening,
but it was happening, and I watched you run
to the shoreline, fall knee-deep in the surf,
your arms flailing at residual trails
the terns sliced into the ether.
How odd that must have appeared to people
not on mescaline, but how intriguing
to me. Van Morrison’s intrigue of
nature’s beauty occurred to me, how there’s
stillness underneath nature’s violence
and from that stillness all things radiate.
But that’s not what you were thinking when they
pulled you soaked and shivering from the surf.
Later you explained how that one image—
me watching your terror—is what ended
us. That was the danger with mescaline:
the immutable truths it might reveal.
Morgan’s Bluff Revisited
At dawn the gulls laugh again.
Two gray angelfish ascend …
… kiss the surface …
… recede …
the water’s surface wrinkles.
Pink light separates the gray sky from the gray sea.
Enormous clouds form like the aftermath of great explosions.
How pensive this daybreak,
a grenade without a pin.
In a needling insect heat the dawn’s final breeze fades.
A jeep’s lights flash on, it backs out of the commissary.
Pelicans lift from the pylons.
The Cuban whore retreats up the Bluff Road,
her sandals dangling from a finger.
At sunrise we piss from the upper deck
onto the flat calm surface of Biscayne Bay.
We are eighteen, the deck is high—our piss
arcs out in glorious loops, splashes with
a bracing violence, its ripples rolling
past the breakwater into the canal
linked to Government Cut where tugs push
cruise ships toward the Gulf Stream, our piss following.
I imagine it churned up in the whitewash
of giant propellers, swirling in a blend
of seas and plasmids as it joins the world’s
great currents, hugging the Atlantic
coastline heading north past the flashpoint
of the Civil War, past New England and
Nova Scotia into the vast schools
of bluefin tuna spearing the water
columns. Ice floes threaten shipping in
the North Atlantic. It’s lunchtime in
the UK, in Spain they’re napping. What drum
beats along the coast of Senegal, what
hurricane amasses? This will be news
in Guyana, news in Jamaica where
from Lucea to Oracabessa
shutters are pulled tight. And traffic
on Route 1 backs up past Matecumbe Key.
By the time we shake off, the coffee cools
in the galley in mugs that taste of bleach,
and local birds vector south in airstreams
miles long beneath the pink and aqua sky.
No news but the weather, no desire
but for longer, and still longer days.
Saturdays were half-days, our pockets
full of Friday money. We’d roll over
to the roadhouse on Elysian Fields,
straight-claw hammers hanging from our belts.
The jukebox played “Layla”
and “I See the Want To In Your Eyes.”
Pitchers of Dixie, package of smokes,
maybe a Stewart’s sandwich from the microwave.
Coeds from UNO bent over
the pool table, denim skirts riding their thighs,
bootheels off the floorboards. I promised
myself I’d chat up one of those cowgirls.
Saturday afternoons I made lots of promises.
Winter Sunday, Firenze
In front of the stone houses, their shutters
drawn and smoke climbing from the chimneys,
the sycamores are bare, leaves loiter
at the tires of the silent cars.
Orchestral music from a radio …
a woman’s face in a second storey window …
the shops are closed. No aromas of bread
from the forna, no chatter outside the tabacchi.
At the corner, visitors follow packages
into a taxi. The taxi turns onto Viale dei Mille’s
empty lanes. You proceed to the canal,
always the canal, your hands in your pockets,
a Camus without the Gauloises.
At the Ponte alle Riffe, a grandson drops bread
to the ducks, his nonno smiling. And then
it’s just you, you and the purling water.