And in Palanga today one can find smelts baked or smoked, dried, singing, dancing, metal, molar and amber, or tasty
fish soup, for today is Palanga Stintas and the little fish give themselves up unwillingly but in great numbers
and the good people dress in their winter finery and walk all the way down Basanavičiaus Gatveje to the great
L-shaped pier, crowded like hens in a run or fish in a weir, the young and the old, lovers and grim couples
and somewhat happy families and pairs of girls almost too young to be on their own. We all walk
between the fish stands and the vendors selling fur hats and amber necklaces and cups and pots and soup
and karšas vynas, the warmed red wine, and Svyturas in big glasses, eight black coats and then a blue one,
eight more and a yellow, nine more and a sudden pink, strollers with weary toddlers moaning and women
bearing inscrutable small dogs, all of us walking together and apart, bumping and jostling, up the slope
of the barrier dune and down to the sea at last, out along the beach where the dogs can run free,
out along the pier where the crowd thins at last, where the long-haired women pose for their men
over and over, the obscure sea behind them, the women smile and remember how beautiful
they are even in winter, even in their black tights and black coats zipped high against the wind.
Meditation with Salal and Otters
Today Baker’s drifted even higher into the sky, the dark gap grown a distance impossible to measure but clear enough
from far away. Closer, my measure-rock is underwater entirely and the drift-log nods easily in a gap that was dry an hour ago.
Sharon’s attacked the salal, cleared the old log so we can sit with our wine and discuss the great themes, happy and
half-drunk. The sky, the bay, the islands are a study in shades of blue, pearly iridescence gathering over
it all as the last light hesitates in the trees. Suddenly cooler, a gaggle of geese on the water, kelp, a clutch of river otters
bobbing and weaving. Twelve miles across to the mainland, the mountains vague as promises, so much water between
and every day the ferries and freighters churn across it, any number of beings dip and drink and dazzle themselves,
creatures grand and gentle, armored and furred, scaled and skinned, empty and open. The drift log slides east,
veering off from shore through no will of its own. How many otters can live in all this water? At least four,
say my distant friends, and that’s all that worries them. The school of silvery fish think four otters is plenty.
But now four more slip down the shoreline, dark heads only above the shimmery surface, heading east as the sun
sinks behind. And the mist is an aching golden pinkish purple, an otherworldly wrap, a loose scrim to keep secret
what must be secret until the evening can be laid away.
Uneasy Fantasia from Quarry Hollow
In the back yard a mound of jumbled stone, overrun with weeds and creepers, maybe an old barn, a wall,
a fortress, trees grown up in it, a lesson in texture and limestone, gravity and the inscrutable past
and the space it allows for speculations of all sorts, tedious, whimsical, brutal, just as the uneven planks
of the new picnic table invite complaints on the slovenly craftsmanship of people these days. All of which
may interest only a man like me, cooling from my bike ride on a sunny September day on this island, or The Island
as I nearly wrote before tripping over guilty recognition of the many layers of my privilege. The Pope is in
New York, urging attention to the poor and the melting of Greenland. My wife didn’t pick up and is probably
out shopping. Both daughters-in-law are pregnant, though we’re not supposed to tell yet. I rode
every road on the island and some of them twice, sweaty and happy, passed three golf carts and many
slow couples, all of us moving, some of us young. There’s music and laughter, wind in the trees,
there’s no time and all time, crows, sparrows, chimes and confessions. A moment in the giddy whirl
of the world. Moss on the stones. Sun on the moss.
Jeff Gundy’s seventh book of poems, Abandoned Homeland(Bottom Dog, 2015) was a finalist for the Ohioana Poetry Award, and he was named Ohio Poet of the Year for Somewhere Near Defiance (Anhinga, 2014). His poems and essays are in The Georgia Review, The Sun, Kenyon Review, Christian Century, Image, Artful Dodge, Cincinnati Review, Nimrod, and many other journals. He has also published four books of essays and creative nonfiction, including Songs from an Empty Cage: Poetry, Mystery, Anabaptism, and Peace(Cascadia, 2013). He teaches at Bluffton University in Ohio and spent his last two sabbaticals at LCC International University in Klaipeda, Lithuania (2015) and as a Fulbright Lecturer at the University of Salzburg, Austria (2008).
Header photo of pier by rachelsne0, courtesy Pixabay. Photo of Jeff Gundy by Bill Walker.