Tuesday, August 16, 2016


By Joanne Pilgrim

I drove east, the white heat shimmering over Montauk almost like frost, even just after 7 in the morning. Pale yellow other-worldly sun, sky bleached of blue. We are in the middle of a heat wave, the earth changing like never before, it seems, in ways that we can’t control. I expect there will be more extremes, that you will never see.
Montauk Highway was two lines vanishing into lumpy tops of trees, the ocean a tinted, opaque shimmer. You are much with me, often, but I wanted to feel it stronger today, the force of the collective memories carried by everyone gathered on the beach at Ditch, your surfer crew, your family. Your footprints in that sand, that image captured of you crouching on your board in the curl of an aqua and Atlantic-green wave.
Your granddaughter, in a bright orange sundress, the skirt splashed with a floral pattern, toddled on the sand, holding one end of a dog’s leash and attempting to lead him or her around. Mostly compliant, the dog at one point headed the opposite way, the gentle pull enough to land Quinn –boomp! – right on her bottom. Resilient, she got right back up.
So sad you can’t see that with your own eyes, even the way she has grown, a little person now rather than the babe in arms she was when I held her at your house just before you passed as her mother tended to you, trying to make you comfortable in your hospital bed.
You couldn’t really speak, you lifted your hand and gestured to me, tried to say something – I hope you knew it was me there. I do not want to remember you that way. I bent and kissed your forehead, brushed my hand over your bald and spotted head. You were there, but inside a fading husk.
Better to recall how many times you had a clonk on that head, a bruise or a scrape on the bald part of your pate, how I teased you about needing a stronger “lid.” Better to think of you in your floppy hat with the string under the chin, loose shorts and T-shirt, flip flops, pedaling a cruiser bike around Montauk, the essence of chill.
The surfers paddled out for you this morning. They stopped at the sandbar, standing waist-high, and said something, about you, I’m sure, though I couldn’t hear, before all raising their arms high with a cheer. Then some continued out into the waves.
I thought, let me go and stand in the same water at least, and I stood next to the jetty rocks slowly sinking up to my ankles in wet muck as the wave curls edged in.
Orchids from the leis worn to honor you were bright here and there against the deep taupe wet sand, and more floated in and I thought, these flowers, a drop of your spirit, will appear along here all day, throughout the surf contest and among the crowds that will throng to Ditch all through this hot weekend day. People will see them and will not know why they are there, but a little bit of you will always flavor that place – and many others. Were those the couple of good waves you sent for the surfers who paddled out to ride in?
On the way home I laid on my back in the bay and thought about the lessons you have given me. “Health is wealth,” you said to me one of those last times we saw each other. We knew you were sick, were dealing with it, but not how close to the end.
You made a good life for yourself, savored so many things, but not with that selfish edge I see in so many people, that I shy away from. I shortchange myself that way, not wanting to be like that, not feeling deserving, not believing the things that could be.
A long time ago, after the death of my college professor Willi Unsoeld, an inspiration, a mountain climber and philosopher king, I stood holding hands with a circle of several hundred people, singing these lines from a Holly Near song that seem fitting again: “Well it could have been me, but instead it was you. So I’ll keep on doing the things I’ve been doing, as if I were two….”
And in the spirit of you, Rusty, I’ll try to do more.

Thursday, February 23, 2012



An imperceptible opening
Suddenly long visibility across the slate winter bay
One day barren ground,
at next notice
daffodil shoots hand high,
and the stalwart snowdrops that stayed open all winter
-- in the business of longitudinal thinking --
maintain their corner droop

Friday, February 3, 2012

Still Another poem about the seasons ....

Unfrozen winter
though the January darkness is deep,
seeping over the late afternoon
and into the night

Mineral stars
soggy earth releases animal smells
of old elephant hides and dung,
redolent pungency of cats
alert on the hunt

In this northern eve
scent of the earth
while I am just plodding through routine
enjoying the unbroken spell,
expanding into softer time,
this year still tinged with initiative

Monday, November 28, 2011

Late November

Small wind flexing
stale breath of softened fall
ready to harden into winter
Last tender water song
and the sun strong through clouds

Two days till December
a tenacious window holds
summer's friction, sand's mold
and the dog just looking

Comfortable on a high perch,
give of the dune ridge
and tumble of last softened days
into the columns of deep water:
developing cold

Friday, April 15, 2011

First Fly

When, this morning
I heard the fly on its zigzagging flight
across the plane above my bed,
toward the square of light at the window,
lurched into motion after lingering --
where? --
I remembered the buzz,
how it sawed its way
into my sleep,
a pure finger of reality
into my dream

And I was thinking, though asleep,
it's April,
early for this fly to be here
inciting a vein of irritation to thrum,
melting the pure surface of slumber
to set its spindly legs on my nerves

Friday, March 11, 2011

March Begins

And the light of course
is changed
But still the grime-covered mounds
of icy snow
like great beasts of winter
slumbering roadside

My first glimpse
of the unsure morning sun
a gulp of well-being
its latent strength recalling
elastic days of spring and summer,
the saturated days of fall

Spring rain in the railyard, Centralia, Washington