In response to British Petroleum’s industrial oil catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, I went looking for poetry. I found a great collection over at Poets for Living Waters. Here’s a poem by Jeff Newberry, a Gulf native.
“Recently, I visited my hometown, Port St. Joe, Florida, a former mill town and fishing village on the Gulf Coast, some 35 miles east of Panama City,” writes Jeff. “I took a long walk one morning down by St. Joseph’s Bay, and looking out over the still green water, I saw where the shallows dropped off into the deeper water of the bay. It was clear demarcation: visible sand then darkness. I found the contrast both beautiful and ominous. Only later did I realize that my thinking about art comes from having grown up by the Gulf of Mexico. For me, art is like St. Joesph’s Bay. You can see it, measure it, understand it – up to a point. Beyond that point is mystery, a place both exciting and dangerous, a place where you lose yourself and become a part of the art itself.”
In the Cross Maker’s Tent
Port St. Joe Seafood Festival
The old woman carved crosses from driftwood,
Displayed them on lattice board, ran balsa
Hands over one as she spoke: I find the pieces
Each morning, washed up from the bay. Some days,
Webs of seaweed tangle them, but I find the best
Pieces this way: hidden. I wanted to buy a carving,
Pictured her hands turning the wood, palms like wave-
Polished sea glass. Did she use a lathe? Did she plane
Or shave the wood? How often did she slip & slice
Skin from her palm? Outside, the festival continued:
People drifted by the tent, a steady rhythm of voices,
Like waves stealing sand. October wind rattled
The tattered canvas. Bruised clouds churned low
Over St. Joseph’s Bay. A sudden strobe of lightning.
She gestured west, swirled the air with one lined palm.
Indian summer. Rain’s coming she said. Storms, hail.
It’s the heat mixing with the coming cold. I chose
A gray cross with periwinkle inlays, felt the honed-
Down ridges, imagined her finding it after a sleepless
Night, carving it as the sea lay still, a sheet of glass.
Read more of Jeff’s work here.