BREAKWATER

During my first week in Provincetown, I spent three afternoons at Breakwater, the path of broken stones that stretches for 1.2 miles, curving slightly, through the salt marshes towards a lighthouse on the distant shore. The Breakwater’s broken granite stones are

jared gruenwald via photosfordays

piled more than ten feet high (mice live in the spaces between the boulders. I heard and saw them scurrying and fighting when I walked partway across Breakwater at 11 PM one night and my flashlight shined on them) and the pathway is relatively flat and walk-easeful because the biggest, flattest faces of the boulders make the path.

Jumping from stone to stone is easy except for certain sections where the boulders are set at an angle, so I have to lean forward, grip the top of the boulder, stick my ass out, and tippy-toe up the rock. It is painful to watch middle-aged ladies climb those boulders (there was one black-haired lady who, when she bent a knee, would/could not unbend that knee until ten seconds later). The granite pathway is littered with broken clam shells and every now and then, a crab with all its meat satisfactorily sucked out. Overhead, sea gulls ride on the breeze. I haven’t seen a sea gull drop a clam on the path, so I cannot say from what height the clams fall, but I wonder which first sea gull it was that, millions of years ago, dropped that first clam for the first time on a rock.

When I arrive at the Breakwater at 1-ish during this week, it is low tide, so the tide is a half-mile out from the salt marshes and I can climb down from Breakwater and walk on the moist sands next to shallow streams and pools and large stands of wild grasses. It’s possible to walk barefoot in the salt marshes except in large areas where thousands of broken and unbroken mussel and clam shells dig into your feet. I’m horrified sometimes when I remember that I’m hiking through mussel and clam slaying grounds.

In the streams and pools, especially in the ones at the bend of the sea grasses, there are baby crabs, hermit crabs, and schools of small pale gray fish. These were my first sightings of wild crabs in the wild (my only sighting being panicky crabs in Asian grocery store tanks that will be scrubbed off and popped into slowly boiling pots in a few hours) and I was delighted to see how easefully they can scurry sideways, backwards, and forwards, and finally quickly bury themselves. They are the most natural sideways scurries in the world, I am sure.

I did not notice the schools of small pale gray fish the first two days because these fishes are so much more darting shadows than fishes; they blend so well with the glinting of sunlight on the shallow waters and pale rocks. The most fun I had my first week in Provincetown was standing still and then stepping quickly into the shallow pools. The schools would dart trying to escape from me and at the same time trying to stay together.

By 4, the tide lazily rushes in, its edges gray with scum and pollution from the yachts and boats in the harbor a mile from the salt marsh. Perhaps it’s not a good idea to swim in these stinky waters (especially since I am a beginner swimmer and still swallow mouthfuls when I panic and forget I am in three feet of water), but someone desperate to swim will swim anywhere (but not in sewers of course). I swim in the rising tide, moving with it as it moves further inland, until we arrive at the Breakwater path and it’s time for me to scramble up, sit on the boulders for awhile to dry off, and then go home.

Minh Phuong Nguyen holds undergraduate degrees in English and Nutritional Sciences and is a current MA candidate in Creative Nonfiction Writing at the University of Missouri, where he holds the David R Francis Fellowship.

Minh is also the winner of the Norman Mailer Center – National Council of Teachers of English College Student Writing Contest. The Mailer Nonfiction Fellowship is part of his award. He is using the month of residency to work on a book project encompassing the themes in his winning entry, “Suffering Self,” an excerpt of which is forthcoming in the next issue of Creative Nonfiction.

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RED BOAT

A little red boat
            In Cape Cod Bay
A lightness at its core
            As the wind blows.
Where does it go
            When night comes?
No one knows.

c Meena Alexander, all rights reserved

Meena Alexander is the author of numerous collections of poetry, literary memoirs, essays, works of fiction and literary criticism. Among her best known works are the volumes of poetry Illiterate Heart and Raw Silk. Visit her website.

Meena is also the mentor for the Mailer Poetry Fellows. This is her first year mentoring the Mailer Fellowship.

WE SHALL NOT ALL DAYDREAM WAVES, BUT WE SHALL ALL BE CHANGED

I have set myself up at Norman Mailer’s bar to write this. There were pigeons that allegedly gathered around Mailer’s house, and he is alleged to have claimed they were the reincarnated souls of WWII fighter pilots, as they flew in formation. Such a take on metempsychosis could only be formulated at a bar, so that’s where I sit. (Since the bar is currently without spirituous drinks these days, I don’t imagine I’ll be doing any such theorizing.) It is high tide, so the water comes almost to the edge of the deck on the other side of the window, and much bobs in it: pelagic birds, humans, buoys, boats tethered to buoys. I try not to drift into the vista, but this proves difficult, the middle distance being so serenely enrapturing here: it protracts into abstracted gazes my casual glances. But this is to the good: after staring at the wall of the next building over in San Francisco for many months, the bay is an ongoing epiphany. I spend the hours staring out across it from various vantage points: the local library, which has an entire schooner on its second floor, assembled there by a man who absolutely fulfills the stereotype of “sea captain”; the decks of cafés and restaurants; the beaches; this bar. Contra Joyce, it is a grayblue, thoughtloosening sea I find each time I look up from my handwriting, a typeset page, this screen.

Michael Rutherglen is originally from Charlottesville, VA. He is the recipient of a 2012-2013 Amy Clampitt fellowhsip and 2008 Ruth Lilly Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation. His work (sample here and here) has been published in Poetry, The Antioch Review, and 9th Letter. Visit The Winter Anthology, a nascent collection of 21st century international literature of which Michael is a founding editor.

Michael is also a Mailer Poetry Fellow. He is using the month of residency to work slowly and steadily on his current manuscript.

tide is up

GOOD TIMES BAD TIMES

Saturday, July 2nd, I spent the night in Providence, RI.
The next day, I drove the last hours up the Cape’s curl,
Mind burning with the Waterfires I’d seen lit
In braziers where College Hill sloped to the river.
At the Mailer Home I received my key, was oriented
And escorted, with smiles, to my home for the next month.
My roommate and I found common ground in favorite writers
And fell quickly to the task of lolling about the different rooms
Of the generous, pastel Rubix Cube we’d been appointed,
Filling it with our scent: marking it our own.

An Opening Reception at the Mailer Center,
A savage blitz on the Stop And Shop, drinks,
More drinks, and innumerable pool matches—
In near dark—beneath Governor Bradford’s Tavern,
The floorboards above our heads sagging
Under the weight of drag-karaoke.
I slept, woke, drank, woke,
Sun through the skylight casting a rainbow
Off me in the shower. I climbed
The hills behind our condo, collecting scratches
In those same woods an earlier generation
Ascended to find love and pick fights
In the dark, after the bars had closed.
Where I thought I’d see the Atlantic, and clear my head,
I saw only more hills, rank upon rank.

God help you when you wake up after days like that:
When nothing you’ve written was worth waking up for,
And your body treats with you suspicion.
When the high school’s been shipped to Eastham,
The fisheries and saltworks shrinking to a footnote,
The Portuguese packing up their language and slipping away,
The bartender at Old Colony seems overly familiar,
And your feet hurt where you took your shoes off
To dance the fool,
Just pray you’ve enough hope and character
Saved away to redeem and outlast the stale day
When flat light on Commercial reveals it a studio backlot
—empty of all who hazard to love you.

Scott Dahlie holds an MFA from the New School where he was prose editor for LIT Magazine.  He was recently awarded the Hauser Prize for prose and is featured in Chautauqua Literary Journal.  He is thirty years old and will be moving to London after the summer.

Scott is also a Mailer Fiction Fellow. He is using the month of residency to work on his first novel.

What is this. What has happened to me.

In workshop with Meena Alexander last week, our prompt was to write about nature. I chose the sky; arguably the cleanest, safest, most ubiquitous aspect of nature, but nonetheless breathtaking. Today I lay out in the sun at Herring Cove Beach thinking about that choice while watching the clouds – every kind, from light grayish smudge at the horizon to bright white question mark shifting into an airy exclamation right in the middle of my blue field of vision. I really do mourn my relative disconnection from nature – something I truly didn’t realize I’d been missing.

I grew up in Los Angeles, but loved nature as a child. I remember a field trip to someplace north of the city where I knelt happily in shallow, grassy pools with a magnifying glass, looking for tadpoles. I remember mud fights with my sisters in the rain. I remember planting watermelon seeds in the front yard, how the dirt coated my fingers, burrowing richly beneath my chewed-down nails. I touched pill bugs, pet lost animals, collected autumn leaves and taped the stems to notebook paper, arranged by color and shape. And I loved the beach, the squish of wet sand and the salt on my skin.

What happened to me? Motherhood? Allergies? The Great Recession? Now all I can think about is how much it costs to get there, make sure we have enough to eat, be entertained, get back home, and then the sand I have to sweep up afterward, the sopping wet clothes to launder before they start to mildew, the inevitable scrapes or bites to attend. “Communing with nature” has thus turned into a chore and even a luxury over the years; being in Provincetown has thrown that new insight sharply into relief, and I would lose a tremendous opportunity if I let it go without scrutiny.

When we left Herring Cove today, I obeyed the impulse to fill a paper cup with a dozen marvelous beach rocks that I’ve placed near my “writing spot” in the condo. And, yes, I will cart them back to the city with me, not as souvenirs but as a reminder of how a question mark can transform into a quiet exclamation.

Khadijah Queen is the mother of an 11-year-old Bey Blader and Pokémon Trainer. She tries to keep up with the powers and levels and “evolutions” of the characters, if only so she can understand what on the great earth her son and his friends talk about. Read Khadijah’s work in Esque and visit her website. Her second book Black Peculiar, winner of the Noemi Press book award, is forthcoming this fall. Her poems, three times nominated for the Pushcart Prize, appear widely in journals and anthologies, including The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2010 and the current issue of jubilat.

Khadijah is also a Mailer Poetry Fellow. She is using the month of residency to work on her third book, which deals with her experience in the Navy and concomitant struggle with fibromyalgia.