Arcadia Beach, Oregon
The zone where two communities overlap, called an ecotone,
shares characteristics of both communities and therefore is
diverse. That is, the edge of a community is more diversified
than its center, a phenomenon also known as “edge effect.”. . .
The region where the land and sea overlap . . . is one of the
best examples of edge effect in the world.
Allan A. Schoenherr,
A NATURAL HISTORY OF CALIFORNIA
Even under a petroglyphic coastal overcast,
the sand flushes with a heat almost innocent,
unhurt as it burns, and thus it is so often
the purest place for us as children.
Now, when we imprint its edge, we know it will wash.
While we may squint, its glint is broken lenses.
Rubbing sand in my palm, I feel
vision in that hand. I see
to reach outside the wet breathing ribcage
of the horizon. At my blind side,
basalt: shearable, towerable, and able to abide
long hours and average eons. The cliff
houses its resident eyes in caves,
in nests, down crevices, in hives. Ships,
if sensitive, may feel watched. And underfoot,
beneath goat-stepping wet opals of old toenails,
whole orbits of washed-in sea gooseberries
kindle a gaze up every few feet, glassies
convexing the vista, oculists’ models of the eye’s
hermaphroditic twin, paired in one single flesh
as we, with two eyes in one head, are mated for sight.
Merely to move forward, I tear draglines
of gull prints, their scuff’s slight stickiness
to land before they fly. Beneath gulls’ high ride,
every second villager’s the best imagist
he or she can be for sea stacks’ rough allure
offshore. It’s all the brush-fingered seem to see.
Their garden or kitchen studios hatch water-slender
watercolors, stout sumi-e outlines, stolen styles—
expropriated eyes—of great but landlocked artists
of any continent but this. They line the palisades,
hold mirrors to the sea, even gladly to fog.
The whole subduction zone
calls painters for a briefing every day —
and every day the wet description dries.
But here, far up the littoral, I feel another congregation;
I sense they are inspecting everything going by.
Backbone, backbone, backbone
of stones: Stack three, you have a god; a minor one
improves on none. It’s a beach outing
for a gang of almighties. Each has a base, a trunk, a head,
a jutting chin. Or driftwood eyebrows.
They are more than pillars, rock on rock.
One probes with seaweed field glasses, alert with poise
not of the spy but of the curious, of the
minerally secure: What’s to be seen, its body
language says, in this shred of humanity coursing
north? I feel weather-cut edges of one watcher
multiply, its brain stones’ ordained postures aiming
at the sea through any shore-searcher in the way.
I feel stone necks risen to attention, each vertebra
an observation deck. Against the cliff a pantheon.
No shadows on their cheeks, they are not grim.
Gray, they are not whimsy. They stand up stark.
What does “stark” mean anyway? Didn’t Anne G. say
my father-in-law George’s weightroom
“looked so stark”? Those dumbbells no longer made,
their deadweight laid out in increments
of hardship, increasing as hardship will, the barbells
propped like desolate businessmen at the final gate
of an airport concourse, present only to pick up
another drear and cunning company joe
whose name they hold penned on a pitiful placard. . . .
Stark. Can it mean pure? utter? simple? strong?
Sometimes I’ve seen eighty-year-old George standing
on his head, upside-down power, a restacking
of stones, right there on his gunboat-stern
cement basement floor, rebuilding, rearranging the cairn,
his body well-trained to be ancient, an Old World
stonemason. Why should bone be the most
solid-seeming part of a god around a mind?
Isn’t a skull just a showcase for eyes? The fact that feet
in air come down, rocks tumble in time,
deduce to abdomen, thorax, small insect head,
almost back to diagram, that one
frost crystal brings the stone church to the ground,
excuses or defends erecting this toppler
while one can. Gods are hard. But longer life-tested sand
is soft. I hear one rock fall, the highest stone, on point,
fall backwards, and here we turn, we must turn, back,
as we would if we had any children with us,
not ready to take them beyond the falling of the gods
and yet permitting them to hear
the softness of their landings,
where wounds will bathe, bedded in sand,
one edge rushing over to enfold the other.