Christopher Buckley

Here & Now
December 21, 2018 Buckley Christopher

Here & Now: at Miramar Point, Santa Barbara, CA

. . . there is a war between the mind
And sky. . .
—W. Stevens

I’m walking the beach where I ran as a child.
At 15 it took 5 minutes standing here
in the February surf for my knees to go numb,
to quit aching enough to paddle out to grey
swells rising against the grey sky,
catch an outside wave and charge down
a choppy wall, grab a rail at the bottom
to turn and hurtle back toward shore.

I pause listening to the indifferent feedback
of the surf as it breaks across the years where,
like small schools of fish, the minutes keep
moving despite a net seining through
the cosmos and stopping time. I count
myself lucky no matter what’s revealed,
or isn’t—each thought or memory
going blurry as distant planets, rough
as beach glass beneath the suspended
animation of the moon.
      My eyes, grey now
as clouds that used to crowd the bay and build
the swells—I breathe the sea air and wait
for any murmur in the eucalyptus boughs
that I can take as an enunciation of hope,
but there seems nothing left to do
but capitulate to the buckshot of stars
like some bandido on ‘50s TV raising
his hands to whomever has caught up
and got the drop on him, surrounded by dust
whipping in the wind. I’m reaching back
into the roots of the sea, the spume, the spindrift
clinging to the sky as if there were some means
of escape up there?
Metaphors aside,
my shoulders are giving way to the simple
arithmetic of time, the bylaws of my molecules
preparing to adjourn—there’s a scent of rust
skimming the air, that pause before the long
question mark of dusk when we’d haul
our boards out and head home,
salt collecting on our lips, fog drifting
through our blood. . . .
      How much of this
will we remember when the light’s skipped
our minds? Will I be standing outside
the classroom waiting for that version
of myself to walk by, before I go
into the absolute exposure of night?
How far can you get forgetting all that
brought you to the point where light
and matter break apart?
     Only the ritual
of my arms embracing the blue kept me
happy, bewildered as I was in twilight,
where you never get rid of grief.
                   A good portion
of everything’s gone, the clouds on the horizon
unraveling—Cuneiform, Hebrew, Greek, cursive—
I’ve likely forgotten more than I learned,
weary now as the waves untranslated
on the shore, just a few yards beyond which
I shot through glassy head-high tubes,
content with nothing but the filtered sun
and half-steps of gravity in front of me,
which, had I thought of it then,
made as much sense as anything
as I walked the nose of my 10-foot spoon
through the screaming section at the point,
and where I did not take a second to bless
or be grateful for my molecules sparking
back and forth between my wrinkled fingertips
and feet, the lip of the wave translucent
with blue un-seeable space, my blood
and briney synapses, my cells, implicit,
reflexive in their hallelujahs—the cartload
of electricity carried in my corpuscles
and endings of my nerves, forging through
the unfathomable fabric of the here and now.

Christopher Buckley’s most recent book is One Sky to the Next, winner of the Longleaf Press Book Prize, 2023. He has recently edited: The Long Embrace: Contemporary Poets on the Long Poems of Philip Levine, Lynx House Press, 2020; and NAMING THE LOST: THE FRESNO POETS—Interviews & Essays, Stephen F. Austin State Univ. Press, 2021.