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Through these gates, destroyers, battleships,
carriers sailed westward toward the Rising Sun,
the horizon, fiery at dusk, still smoldering
at dawn.  Today, standing on dunes bulldozed
wall tall and bunker thick to buffer
the road from Pacific winds and drifting sand,
surfers survey the waves and tide, gray
like the fog drifting in, veiling the headlands--
sea oats, rustling like fall leaves
before a storm, whipping their wet suits.
Deep water, too, is gray, metallic, the breakers
heavy as iron as they crash against the shore
blackened by nightly bonfires the children burn
for warmth and light as they party seaside

in some ritual of drunkenness and dance
they are too young to try to understand.
Barren in wartime, the dunes now are thick
with ice plant growing in patches like scraggly
rag rugs thrown down among wiry nettles,
to which a cottony fiber sticks, and a yellow-
green moss that clings to the sand as if awed
by the ice plant’s painterly colors:  a ghostly
terra verde, like bloated grass, a royal
lavender, a flickering yellow or orange,
and a flaming scarlet so hot that, as it dies,
drops on the dunes a charcoal-like ash
the shades of sea gulls flying in the mist
or that bird whose cry is white as its feathers.

Holden Beach

by Peter Weltner

Epochal storms had narrowed the wide, white
beach, its dunes girded by slat fences, into
strips thin as a trench plank, its sand washed
away to reveal, at low tide, antediluvial
black boulders.  At high, the creaking, weak-
kneed cottage’s stilts waded in the Atlantic,
its pier’s steps descending four feet beneath
the ocean, like a ladder into a swirling pool.
Feeling free only here, by this water, she kicked
off her shoes, threw her hat and kerchief to
the wind stinging her face, knotting her hair,
and ran through sea oats down sandy slopes,
excited as a girl with shovel and pail to dig
for crabs or build a castle’s walls and tower.

But on the third day the sea and sky turned
the same dark thundercloud gray.  Sand-
pipers, gulls, plovers foraged for food.
A sea drift weather vane spun its rooster’s
tail feathers on the deck.   Storm rolling in,
she swam out too far anyway, braver, more
daring than her son who cowered closer
to shore.  Yet as the waves grew stronger,
a cross current or riptide dragged her out
further than she could stand.  Her toes unable
to touch bottom, she froze, panicked, alone,
shouting to her boy.  Winds battered the oats.
A fence that snaked across the shifting dunes
broke as spindrift skittered over the water.

A wave crashing against the pier cracked
like ice.  All this she saw and heard clinging
to her middle-aged son who slowly dragged
her in like a sea creature bloated by fear,
unable to move in its element unless
hooked or netted by a human.  Her husband,
her son, her daughter slowly lifted her up
the pier’s stairs, her breath easing as she
sipped some tea–sighing, relieved she must
have time left.  How much? Ten years, her son
says to her, dead in her bed.  His fingers
skim over, touch her face, lips, the gritting
teeth, half a hospital cupful of stubborn spit
having dragged her deeper than all oceans.