Looking for Maine
There’s a certain quiet in Maine. You hear it at the farmer’s market and the hardware store. You hear it in the Goodwill and downwind of the paper mill, and you hear it in discussions on the ferry, in the diesel of workboats. Some say it comes from the sky, others from the people. Most don’t say anything at all.
One evening we sat by the Cathance River outside Topsham and watched our friend’s dog, Targ, chase a beaver. The beaver would position itself as Targ, a thick, grey-muzzled retriever approached; then—after a year, it seemed—the beaver would slap Targ hard on the head with its tail.
In another state further south, I found a beaver tail in the leaves along a stream. Looking closely, I was less a black snake than the sound of it in dry grass. Things were all mixed up. I was on my stomach again, in Maine, sanding a dock’s under-beam as a flounder mosied along the shallows like some roach of a fish.
Sometimes we’d walk down to the shore and bloom with the fog’s purple flowers. At Cundy’s Harbor, at the Weskeag, at Maquoit and at the Abagadasset and Dresden Bog. At Popham and at Attean Pond, and at the Wild River and the Cathance and at Merrymeeting Bay. Even now, sometimes far away, the places and the names have a way of breathing us.
Wet summer morning, cool. Sophie under the hemlock, on the swing. The bugs aren’t bad. Kirsten reads in the loft. It is too damp for Lauren and her to gather plants today, though there is some vodka for them now, for tincturing -- Orloff Vodka, made in Lewiston. The elder is in blossom, yarrow, and so much else, says some bird not thrush, not osprey, crow, or robin.
One Sunday snowfall or another, Kirsten and I were tearing wallpaper in the house we rented. The plaster drying one room over smelled like a just-dug hole in dry weather. There were tarps down, something sexy on the tape deck. We were in the kitchen, the tools not sharp enough, pain on the jaw, as snow and such labor provides, and then a longing to ski, which we’d get to, along the tracks and through the pine groves, before work in the morning. At some point I heard Kirsten stop scraping. She said, “Thorpe, look, here’s a message.” Sure enough, penciled to the horsehair was the following:
Last Wallpaper 1969 Moon Shot Day
You hear it among the pet supplies at the Wal Mart, in Cook’s Corner, and you hear it in preparations for a wedding on Chebeague Island, people setting up chairs, tables, flowers, wiring the tent. Somebody’s ankle pops and you hear it. And you hear it when the congregation is seated, when a cloud slides over the moon. You hear it among the Eritreans lined up outside the Portland Housing Authority, and you hear it in the garlic bread at John and Marilyn’s, in the candelight, in the vase of lupine, iris, daisy.
You’re shoveling snow. You can’t remember where. The more snow you move, the less you know. It feels good. You could be splitting that maple again. It might as well be July, the same place in your back beginning to ripen with ache. Far off there is the whine of a snowmobile. Summer has never been quieter.
The other night a friend was telling us about the cell tower they’re putting on the island he loves. He’s trying to stop it, you see, but though he is close to that place and has lived there off and on for a long time, he isn’t from there. I mean he might as well be fighting cancer. People, if they listen, as they must when he explains the scar on the horizon, the way birds are drawn by the lights, sliced by the wires, hear some other hell.
I phoned Kirsten down at Bean’s. She was working the 3-11 shift, on duty at the knife island. A man had cut his finger testing a blade, and now she was doing the paperwork. All night, mine could have bled from something—call it love, call it distance—in her voice. Maybe it still does.
Another late-July shindig at the Dunlap Farm, soccer balls tracing giant smiles in the field, oldies from the DJ in the barn. Carrabasset Ale and Geary’s on ice in the horse trough. A couple and their children march the path to the river; they have no paddles, but their towels are bright, they are coming unfolded.
North of Otter Island
the sky has cauliflower ear. Two osprey,
nest mates, fuss like squeaky hinges,
their deep-elbowed wings
fixed as if bolted in the southwest wind.
Every ten seconds or so,
swells plug the ledge’s grooves. Now lightning
lays a quick electric fence.
Meanwhile, moths—orange on brown—streak
through the pea blossoms
in a solemn festival of tongues. How
do they steady themselves
with so much licking. Earlier,
when diesel throb
pilfered morning’s stores,
when the dark retired to the granite & roots
of unknowing’s isthmus,
kelp was kelp
despite the pileup. Listen:
in-island, Curtis cuts blowdowns, chainsaw
revving like some gas-oil mix
of faith & bully. I will join him soon. Don’t tell me
that I already have.