Every winter I find myself turning briefly to the Romantics, and I partake of Wordsworth and Keats, there on the treadmill in the basement, staring at an old mass market anthology, yellowed and torn. But it’s been sustained, my poetry reading, this cold and snowy winter.
It began with seeing a couple of surfers in mid-January. I was down in Florida, staying at my sister’s condo on Melbourne Beach, a few miles down Highway A1A from where we grew up in Satellite Beach. My wife and sister had left, and there I was alone with the dog. My schedule was to read Anna Karenina, and then work on planning my Spring classes, and then take the dog for an hour’s walk. Sometimes I got out rather late. Like the day at 4 o’clock when, in a silent empty subdivision, I witnessed two boys roaring toward the beach on skateboards, their surfboards under their arms, and I tagged along and watched them surf.
The episode triggered a confused longing in me for my own beach-town boyhood—but also a surging hope: gladness that kids were still growing up partaking of oceanic gifts. And also I felt a comfort in this new human wave that’s rapidly overtaking me; it will seem fitting and proper when I dissolve into that bottomless, fathomless sea of DNA from which they’ve arisen. At least I hope so.
The emotions I felt from seeing those surfer dudes, the embodiment of my own beach boyhood, were such a welter of loss and love that I wanted to capture the experience of witnessing them at play in the waves. But for three days I didn’t know how. What form might such a piece take? I kept thinking, How can I let that moment pass? Not make something?