The world is full of absence — things, animals, people here before, but now gone. A beach attests to that with wet sand so easily marked until the tide comes in, turns, erases all evidence.

I’ve lived most of my life on the East Coast, the greater part of it near the rocky shores of Midcoast Maine. But for a little under a year in my wild youth, I lived on the West Coast, in northern California. While there my young husband and I learned of a secret beach near the town of Caspar.

It was indeed secluded and when we arrived there was no one else around. We camped for two weeks beneath high cliffs dotted with sheep. It was idyllic, the beach littered with sea-worn redwood trunks, the sand soft. I took long walks, dove in and out of the frigid waves. We had a campfire and cooked Hungry Jack pancakes for breakfast and brown rice for dinner.

Eventually a storm came, water streamed into our tent, pulled up its stakes causing the wet canvas to collapse on us. In the darkness we hastily gathered up our gear, tossed it in the car, and made a rapid retreat. The sea erased any mark that we had ever been there.

Eventually my husband and I divorced and last year he died, taking the memory of our time on that beach with him. When I die there will be no one to remember those days.

Marcia Brown’s poem this week features a similar sense of loss. She says that it began as an observational poem sparked by the sight of deer tracks in the sand. She notes that “the first stanzas were originally focused on the sonics of language and the clipped rhythms of the imagined deer running off.”

But, as often happens, she needed to follow the poem itself to find its deeper meaning. She says, “It wanted to contemplate absence itself…how something or someone could be there one minute and then simply be gone, leaving only faint tracks.”

Having recently lost her mother when she wrote the poem, Brown found that the loss left her “with so much silence and so much room for invention.” As is often true for poets at such times, she tried to fill the void through the creation of a poem that encapsulated and reflected on her experience and the transitory nature of life.

Marcia F. Brown of Cape Elizabeth is the author of four poetry collections, the most recent being “In the Afternoon” (Moon Pie Press, 2019). She was appointed to serve as Poet Laureate for the City of Portland from 2013 to 2015. Brown holds an MFA from the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast Program and has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

Three of her poems have been read on NPR’s “The Writer’s Almanac.” Her work is widely published in literary journals and anthologies, including Garrison Keillor’s “Good Poems, American Places” (Penguin Books 2011). Also of note, Marcia wrote poems in response to work by Belfast artist Archie Barnes in her book, “Home to Roost: Paintings and Poems of Belfast, Maine.”

Please consider joining me and the Belfast Poetry Festival Committee Thursday, Sept. 22, 6:30 p.m. at Waterfall Arts Fireside Chat (https://waterfallarts.org/event/fireside-chat-belfast-poetry-festival/) to share a poem or tell a story about your experience with writing or poetry. I look forward to seeing some of you there!

 

Deciphering Sand, Deciphering Water

Three white-tailed deer cantered here,

wove a cloven helix

in the sand, just above

the quick, incoming tide.

I suspect they felt deep in their withers

my approaching steps,

made for the far end of the beach,

stag-leaping mutely

into the dunes.

This day is already ephemeral —

low waves running out

over the worn stones,

bearing their cargos of tiny life.

Light wind of purest oxygen

tugs the tethered life in me

up, up. I’m glad

the deer ran off, leaving me

to imagine the elegant arcs

of their morning run: pale sun

on pale flanks. Invisible too

are the blue and granite-grained fish,

weaving through curtains

of seaweed, to the wet shoals,

to the fathomless and beyond—

to the line of water-air

where motion meets vast stillness.

And what I know was here

just minutes ago — just yesterday, it seems —

calls to me in your voice

that I know better than my own,

entreating me to decipher

what I cannot see, to lift

out of the wet sand, out of the water,

what on earth has happened

and goes on happening here —

where we walked — just so,

on this sand. Then never again.

And even you, who would give me anything

you could, cannot turn to me

with some breath of comfort.

There is so much silence

and so much room for invention

when we become our absences, leaving

tracks like intricate hieroglyphs

on the shimmering, trammeled world.

Judy Kaber is Belfast’s poet laureate.