By Matthew Arnold
The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.
Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Ægean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.
The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Moonlight, from "Four Sea Interludes" by Benjamin Britten
[Leaving the beach on a Sunday in a streetcar]
Leaving the beach on a Sunday in a streetcar
a family of three—mother, son and daughter:
the mother, well on in the thirties, blond hair, worried face;
the son, twelve years of age or so, seated opposite,
and the daughter, about eight or nine, beside her.
The boy was blond, too; a good-looking little fellow
with dreamy eyes. The little girl was quite plain;
mouth pulled down at the corners,
sharp angry eyes behind eyeglasses.
No sooner were they seated than the boy, speaking gently, said,
“Today was one of the most wonderful days I ever had.”
The girl said shrilly, “I wish we could live in one of those houses”—
looking at the bungalows along the shore—
“then we could go to the beach every day.”
The mother did not answer either.
The beach they were coming from was crowded with poor people;
and the family was dressed cheaply but was neat and spotless,
even after the day’s outing.
I wondered idly where the father was: at work? dead? divorced?
After a while the mother said, weighing her words,
“You know Mister. . .”
I did not hear the name: it was spoken so softly.
She was talking to the boy.
“He goes fishing every Wednesday.
I think I can get him to take you along.”
The boy did not answer for a minute or two
and then said, in his gentle voice,
“I should like it very much.”
“Can I go too?” asked the little girl shrilly,
but no one answered her.
Mother and son had eyes only for each other.
She took out her handkerchief and wiped his face.
He complained of something in his eye—
certainly not enough to make him blink—
and she raised the upper lid
and lowered the lower lid to look for it.
The little girl stood up to look out of the window
and the boy said to his mother, “She stepped on my toes
and did not even say, Excuse me, please.”
The mother turned to the little girl and said sharply,
“Why didn’t you say, Excuse me?
You should have said, Excuse me, brother.”
The little girl said nothing,
face turned toward the window,
the corners of her mouth far down and her eyes,
bright and dry, looking sharply through her glasses.
REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Sunny Days, by Rick Sowash
At My Best
BY John Rodriguez
August is the cruelest month: never enough daylight, too much
heat, no holidays and nothing matters except September’s
dawning responsibilities, but the August of 1994 I was Holden
Caulfield, summer camp senior counselor for the junior trail
blazers, black and brown children two weeks shy of first, second,
and third grade. Nothing is as positive, as motivating a force within
one’s life as a school bus full of kids singing along to the local
radio station blazing hip-hop and R&B. (Imagine this cherubic
chorus riding upstate to Ini Kamoze’s “Here Comes the Hotstepper.”
[“Muuur-derah!”]) My workday is filled with hazards like chocolate
melted sticky swim trunk pockets, insistent sunburn, and the assorted
rah rah of parental unsupervision, but those bus rides back from
upstate water parks and pools were my favorite times working.
Have you ever ridden in a cheesebus with ashy children asleep
against you, staring at sudden trees — more numerous than project
windows — blurring along the highways like confusion giving way
to doubt, the heady smell of dried chlorine and musty towels
lulling you into the soft timbre of a Midwest falsetto? Tell me
what it is to fall in love with a lightskin girl covering the Isley
Brothers. I was not two weeks into 21 years old. I had yet
to wear a box cutter in my fifth pocket, or see a semi-automatic
aimed at my center mass, to feel its dumbness against my spine.
My life was uncertain, save for its unlikely length under my control,
like the pilot who falls short of what he says, what he says
he’s all about, all about. All my homeboys were still alive, just
like Aaliyah Dana Haughton, not yet an angel of the cruelest August,
begging a boy, who may not be in the mood to learn what he thinks
he knows, to look beyond his world and try to find a place for her.
REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Hello, It's Me by The Isley Brothers
BY Albert Garcia
It’s ripe, the melon
by our sink. Yellow,
bee-bitten, soft, it perfumes
the house too sweetly.
At five I wake, the air
mournful in its quiet.
My wife’s eyes swim calmly
under their lids, her mouth and jaw
What is happening in the silence
of this house? Curtains
hang heavily from their rods.
Ficus leaves tremble
at my footsteps. Yet
the colors outside are perfect--
orange geranium, blue lobelia.
I wander from room to room
like a man in a museum:
wife, children, books, flowers,
melon. Such still air. Soon
the mid-morning breeze will float in
like tepid water, then hot.
How do I start this day,
I who am unsure
of how my life has happened
or how to proceed
amid this warm and steady sweetness?
REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Sarabande by J.S. Bach
By Alice Wagner
You cannot hold the sun.
Just behind the clouds, it waits
Stirring the tides to right me,
while morning stretches.
Heat, seeps slowly,
filling and spilling over clouds,
Bathing my face and shoulders,
Surrounding me, warm and heavy,
As breezes whisper the truth...
that nothing else exists.
You cannot escape the sun
As waves gently tease, with their promise of sanctuary,
Imagining the tide’s salty embrace,
I am swallowed into the cold deep.
But heat and sear soon follow to the water.
And emerging, I find them waiting,
Lightly caressing and stinging my face.
Dripping and chilled, wrapped in towels we sink back into the day’s warmth.
The heat is slower now and waves gradually sweep away all thought.
Content, the hours pass unnoticed, as we sit together, making talk even smaller.
You cannot tame the sun
Pleasures, once lovely, will soon burn.
Bare arms and legs, tender spaces on backs and shoulders,
Where kisses land without question,
Now sting and swell, no match for its slow fire.
Still burning beneath the surface,
Cool sheets only briefly calm the blaze,
Pounding deep as I roll to make room for sleep.
But like all things, heat fades.
Attempts to escape bubble to the surface and peel,
Leaving only the mark of Summer
to paint the memory of pleasure and pain.
You cannot deny the sun
Another week ends, the earth returning from its seventh tour.
Once again it peers over the window ledge into the kitchen.
Melon is cut, ice is poured, and bags are packed.
Hovering, as we sit in the car on route 95 to the Sound,
Dancing off shiny surfaces, licking at my neck and shoulders,
Whispering its secret again.
I lift my face to its bright kiss,
with no memory of the burn.
REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Introduction & Allegro by Maurice Ravel