I leave my car at the motel, and my shoes,
shake off the highway that got me here,
and step into the sand and the salt,
the blues and whites and yellows and greens,
the bright widening out.
But it’s never exactly what I expect.
From year to year, I forget
the sea is not a postcard. It smells of fish
and seaweed. And there are other people here,
and hotels hulking at my back,
and, on the horizon, the gunmetal of oil rigs.
Still, I make my pilgrimage to the Gulf,
scour the shallows for sand dollars,
watch pelicans wheel and dive,
stroll along the piers to see
what the fishermen have caught,
fill my pockets with the seashells
lined up along the shore like ears.
I pick them up and listen,
try to catch an echo of what they know,
but hear only a hollow roar,
static from a distant radio.
I think, though, if they could speak,
their would say in their watery voices,
not Gulf of Mexico, but sea,
not pelican, sandpiper, or gull or bird,
not stratosphere but sky,
not names, but things themselves.
But I can never be sure.
If they can tell me what I am
when I awaken suddenly
and forget for a moment
how many children I have,
how old I am, where I work,
the color of my skin,
the sound of my mother’s voice,
I can’t catch their drift.
Inlanders like me must gloss
wind and water and rock,
interpret sunrise and sand,
separate what is from what is not.
I have to know if that’s a rattlesnake,
coiling in the dunes or just a garter snake,
if that man’s mouth is curled in a smile
or a snarl, if that Doberman on the beach
wants to kiss or bite.
I wade here where land meets sea
and is neither liquid nor solid,
water nor sand,
incoming nor outgoing,
but everything all at once,
and I say strand.
I come here only
if I can fix it with a name.
I must read it, write it,
say it out loud.
Only a pilgrim as empty as a shell
can glory in the nameless,
the both/and, the neither/nor,
Only a pilgrim who cannot say kenosis
can flood her silences,
fill her iridescent hollows
with the fullness
of what she once called God.