Sunday, May 15, 2011


May 15, 2011:

My brother would be 78 today. He's in an urn now, in one of those facilities at a cemetery where the urns are stored in lockers that aren't a whole lot different from the storage lockers in railroad stations, but much nicer looking. My choice is to forget the locker, toss the ashes in the ocean. I've written a poem about it, which one of my poet friends says is pretty damned good, but I'm sure I'll rewrite it before I die.

As for the weather, it refuses to rain. We get that a lot out here. Rain to the west, flood watches, even, but here it doesn't rain. Sometimes just fifty miles west. I once took the bus from NYC out here in a snowstorm, started to snow when we hit Queens, snowed all the way to the Hamptons, then stopped. Here it had been sprinkling a little. The trip took four hours, but the Hamptons were essentially dry. I guess you'd call that a microclimate. I check the weather forecast every day and the thing I like best is the radar images of rain. Sometimes it will show rain right over your head, but your head is dry, because the rain doesn't reach the ground. And the big thunderstorms are all yellow and orange and then red, when they're especially wild. Nothing like watching a thunderstorm come through. It was best at the Jersey Shore, where you could see them come across the water straight at Long Beach Island. Our house had a kind of deck over the garage space, and we'd sit out there and the rain would come in a line, still water in front of the line and behind it, the turmoil of the rain and wind, and the wind would hit all of a sudden, a wall of wind. It was thrilling. Boats would go over on the beach. Then it would blow out to sea.

Mostly the wind blew out of the southwest and kept the beach cool all summer. That was a gift. Winds out of the northwest would die away in a day at the most; you'd go sailing in this brisk NW wind in the morning, by late afternoon you'd be becalmed. It was frustrating in a way, but it also settled you down. When you're sailing and the wind dies there's absolutely nothing you can do about it. You don't have a motor, don't have oars. You just have to kind of drift home. But it's good for you. You learn something about the conditions of life, and how limited your control is. A tornado, I'm sure, does the same thing. You're in the way, you can't just pick up your house and move it a mile down the road. You wait it out, hope to survive. It's out of your hands. That can be liberating.

Sailing, you had to be able to read the weather; you had to know what the patterns were. My brother learned how to do this; so did I. Some of it came from Capt. Brown, the harbormaster who lived next door to us. He could look at cumulus clouds building up over the mainland and tell you when the storm would hit and where it would go. He'd call us out of bed at two in the morning to row out into the harbor and tow sailboats into shore, so they wouldn't capsize. The gusts from a thunderstorm would flip those boats on their sides like dominoes. It was sweet, no other word for it.

We had a wooden plaque on the wall of the shore house that my brother had carved when he was maybe twelve, of an E sloop with its spinnaker set. He had real talent, never used. I had not much talent in making art but a lot in my voice, and I was told in college that I should get training and go into opera or concert singing. My brother had the same voice I did but couldn't carry a tune. So strange. Same womb, same gene sources, but one can sing, the other can't.

My father had a wonderful voice, too.

We do miss the dead, don't we. OK, not all of them; but the ones we loved and who loved us back, it's like knots have fallen out of the wood of your soul. Charles died eight years ago. We were never close friends but your brother knows you like nobody else does, and vice versa. The shore killed him: too much sun; melanoma; he never went to doctors. Didn't believe in them, he said. How stupid is that? I get the point, they can be wrong, but they're certainly better than magical thinking.

Charles, Charles, Charles. I miss you, brother of mine. If I'm given the time and the venue I'll tell the whole story some day. Time and venues: out of my control. Tolstoy was wrong; all happy families are not alike, they're happy in a particular way. If I don't get to write it, well, I apologize. But do you remember the day I wouldn't race, too much wind, and you got in my sneakbox and took it out yourself and promptly stepped on the bailing can and cut your foot so bad you had to turn around and come back and be rushed to the doctor? A rash, foolish act, but I admired you for it, even while I thought you were nuts. Do you remember, if your soul still breathes? Do you?