stolen poem

Early Naomi but still a fave. It is sometimes hard to get back to poetry if one is really good at grant writing, speaking, facilitation and training, strategic planning, community organizing and the like. But sometimes I wonder who is more likely to move the world, the community organizer, or the poet?

Old Man comes back from the sea
ready for hot baths and baseball on the radio
ready for a companion, not too much company
likes perishable foods and souffles.

He sits on the porch and plays with the dial
Doesn’t see the sun up or down, just the stadiums
broadcast from Chicago, New York, Seattle
The crack of the bat on ball and the stands full of fans

He won’t drink beer anymore, reminds him too
much of the fish. Likes the Chinese take out 3 miles
away, if he times it right he can get egg foo young
and only miss half an inning. Laundry needs to be

done, so do the taxes, though really, does the government
give a damn about him? He dreams of water, swallowing
up the ocean and the world it contains in his belly.
He snores and starts when he wakes, wondering at the

steadiness of the bed. His skin gets pale, and his legs
a little skinnier. In August a navy buddy passes through on
a visit, travelling with a widowed sister-in-law. They all get
along fine, but it is the announcers who keep the Old Man’s

attention, who make his mind jump and his body remember
youth. Sun on the face and shoulders of that young body,
a craving for details and description, an inability to rest and wait,
a hunger and speed and desire he can watch now like a movie

but which eludes him, doesn’t want to be him anymore. He loved words
when he first got a sense of himself, love the names of things, the making
of sense and object and relationship where before was just being.
The great being of the sea made words small nonsense, but

just the same he always took poetry with him to read to the waves.
Poetry and baseball and sex and restaurants: what else do we have
to rudder with, what other anchors have made peace in modernity?
He has another smoke. The need for words to recognize, to say, to populate

and mark. The craving for understanding and pattern and history,
and wanting grandchildren without children, stories without endings,
menus and maps without meals or direction. The sea comes up to his bed
at night and the fish are swimming on without him, no one else catches them any

more. They are happy he has baseball and aftershave commercials and they
want him to feel rich and virile without working his nets, without the salt
and sand and stretch of early days spent fishing. They don’t say anything
and his dreams usually turn to port, to farmland, to hardware, somewhere else,

somewhere he hasn’t been and won’t be going, something he isn’t.
He closes up the porch and he house and pulls on boots and leaves in
October, walks and then rides a bus to New York City, rents a room at the
Methodist Yachtsman’s Hostel and says hello to the fellows at the bar.

He buys a baseball hat and shirt and logs on to sail for Amsterdam but
finds himself instead up all night gambling and then in a car with
a woman driving to Fort lauderdale, listening to shag music on the radio and
stopping to pee behind gas stations and eating steak and potatoes once

a day at chain restaurants that get cheaper the farther South they go.
He’s drawing down his pension but who cares. Baseball is between
him and this woman, there isn’t much else to talk about, the words he had
when he was at sea don’t come into play very much here. Who ever

heard of Neruda, who wouldn’t laugh if he started to describe his love
for the green structure of leaves revealed by an easy tear but then magnified
by the scale and pattern of trees, his anger with the taxi drivers who
spoke so many more languages than he could and seemed to him like urban

sailors with words available, part of the trade, it made him jealous and sad,
what use were poems for a divorced woman with three kids she didn’t
know where and clothes that fit okay, lipstick that she liked and a matter
of fact plan for everything, from rest stops to handling strangers to

arriving alive on the other side. Poems were better kept private;
you couldn’t tune them in on the radio and shut out the rest of the
world and share the excitement of 100,000 others breathing and watching
what will the pitch be how will they call it what word is next to truly say

how it is to make us remember this moment forever. No chance, no
dice, better to just drive and leave the rest behind. Once they arrived in
Florida they said goodbye after she took him to a hotel and he sat
listening to the radio, fully dressed and uninterested in her lying

naked in bed. She owed him fifty dollars for gas in the end but what
did he care, really, the trip was a bargain, he walked out doors and
looked at the little lizards running up the white wall. She reminded him
of circus people, funny but very practical, hard hit but always moving.

The quiet knowledge of words and sea wouldn’t leave him alone, he couldn’t just see and breathe his mind made rhythms and questions and names and rhymes and just kept holding on when his heart couldn’t do it, never had, it was the words he loved but nothing else satisfied, why had he taken them all to sea all

alone? A whole life spent with tides and stanzas and now a waiting
with no breaks, no meter, innings and half time and batter up just a long enough substitute to help him forget what he wanted so he could get on with the eating and sleeping still on his plate. Some sports might have the complexity

and assurance of words, the predictability and surprise of the sea, the hope and naivete of poems, but he hadn’t found them yet. The farm teams let him watch, and he stayed on for the season.

naomi swinton

This entry was posted in art, baseball, callings, naomi swinton, old man and sea, poetry, stories, the writing life. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to stolen poem

  1. Naomi. I can only say that I truly wish I were half the writer you are. This is magnificently written. Why are you not rich and famous????


  2. amuirin says:

    I love that ending.

    I couldn’t help but think of Hemingway’s, ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ reading this. The single mindedness encapsulated, a microcosm becoming a world.

    I wonder if that connection was intended?


  3. johemmant says:

    WOW. More, please Naomi!


  4. marlowe44 says:

    Ironically, there is a literary and spiritual similarity between your poetry and Rick’s; a kind of complete little tale in one poem, a novella, a grand adventure. Excellent work, Naomi. I agree with Johemmant….more, please, more. I posted it on my site, and now it will get even more exposure.



  5. rick mobbs says:

    I don’t think she’s seen this yet or we would hear something. Glad you liked it. You should see her paintings. But she is enmeshed in her world of work and has a hard time getting free to do things like this now. Your words will encourage her.


  6. Naomi, this is an incredible poem. Your words seem to come so freely and with such trust. Thanks for sharing such a beautiful poem. I can only hope to cross paths with you again soon. Have a nice day.


  7. enigma says:

    Hello , did the chart open?


  8. rick mobbs says:

    Enigma, funny you should write. I started a letter to you a few days ago and closed it because I did not have time to write more than a note.

    The chart did open. I was reading it the other day and thinking about the life of this little girl. Naomi calls her the queen of serenity, she is so quietly interested in everything around her, and so openly delighted. The following paragraph jumped out at me. The chart is beautifully and thoughtfully written, affirming intuitions and raising flags over issues to pay attention to over time. Her path is the only one we are interested in helping her find, (just like with Broadus, and I think it is the way we try to treat each other.) Knowing that there are friends like you out there affirms the faith we felt that calling her into the world was the right thing to do, and this the right time to do it, and this the right enfolding, affirming community. Some children land on their feet, and some are lucky enough to land on their feet among great friends and teachers, people interested only in the child’s true interests, and in protecting the child while she discovers them. This little girl seems to be one of those. We’ll love her as best we can while she finds her way and trust her to the protection of the spirit. You truly would find her charming. Just like her brother, I might add. Thank you for your gift.

    ” …Deep at the heart of Ada’s process of develop-
    ment is the need to establish a firm sense of her
    place in the context of the past. This need is
    focused not only on the personal past of the fam-
    ily. As she leaves childhood behind it will expand
    to include the whole of history, the sense of spiritu-
    al roots, and the picture of a world in which every-
    thing new and creative springs from the bedrock of
    what has gone before. She carries within her a life-
    long need to feel connected with her antecedents.
    As she moves into adulthood this will provide her
    with a sense that her future is the fruit not only of
    her own efforts but also of the lives of others who
    worked, played, lived and died before she came in-
    to being. Her sensitivity to the hidden channels of
    the human heart will ensure that she remains in
    contact with the reality of a greater human family.
    The past is thus no mere abstraction or collection of
    historical facts – it is an unfolding drama of human
    suffering, conflict, aspiration and achievement, and
    she will increasingly feel connected to all of it. As
    she moves into adulthood she may be deeply drawn
    to the hidden domain of the psyche and the soul,
    probing the depths of human motivation and seek-
    ing her sense of continuity through a quest for con-
    nection with the spiritual source of life. If there is
    any single thing which parents would benefit from
    recognising about Ada, it is that she has great depth
    and is instinctively attuned to the invisible under-
    pinnings of external reality. Thus, however self-
    assertive her manner might sometimes be, she
    should never be coerced into becoming more extra-
    verted than she feels, nor pushed in any direction
    which requires her to be shallow or superficial.
    The family is extremely important to her, for it is
    not merely a source of security or a group of indi-
    viduals whom she loves. It is a profound symbol of
    a life-force which continues through time, rooted in
    the distant past and moving toward a distant future.
    And even if Ada finds all the love and security she
    seeks within the family, in adulthood she will still –
    consciously or unconsciously – move toward ex-
    panding her sense of family into a broader feeling
    of communion with the eternity of the human spirit…”


  9. rick mobbs says:

    p.s. she has happy eyes.


  10. openhand says:

    Stellar poem. Reminds me of the work of a fellow named John Bennett. You might enjoy his novel, _Tire Grabbers_ or his Shards which are poems sent out like the old Taoists used to write on cave walls or bark. Such a similar spirit to your old sailor.


  11. ybonesy says:

    Naomi, ditto others’ comments. It captures a lifetime.

    Yes, more, more. And yes, to Rick’s introduction about grant writing and community organizing, I hope you can find a way to do all of the above.


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