A Rhythm Upon Everything

Written By: Mary J.  Mahoney

“When anxious, uneasy and bad thoughts come, I go to the sea, and the sea drowns them out with its great wide sounds, cleanses me with its noise, and imposes a rhythm upon everything in me that is bewildered and confused.”    —   Rainer Maria Rilke


As if reversing the steps of Walt Whitman, Brooklyn brought me to Huntington.

In time, Huntington brought me to Stony Brook, Stony Brook to Southampton, ad infinitum, in a movement eastward, away from New York City, a city that I love, the city in which I was born, but one that procures too much stimulation, that is, for me. Here, in eastern Suffolk County, I like the distance, the horizons, the ocean, woods and sand. The deer, oyster beds, and clams. The long days of sun, the contemplation of clouds, the deciphering of skywriting, which always reminds me of Mrs. Dalloway, the luminous halo surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end, being enveloped by the experience, which also reminds me of expressionism which brings me to thoughts of Jackson Pollock in Springs.

We can create here.

A man I know is writing now in Springs, about Walt Whitman, as I am writing now in Westhampton. We are both writing about being writers. He writes about Whitman, of whom I write obliquely: my inverse path east, with thoughts of Walt Whitman as a boy in a crooked saltbox house in Huntington, where I grew up, images I construed while working as a teenager at a clothing store in the Walt Whitman Mall, on the main road, Route 110, because his birthplace is across the way, at the right fork in the road, by the International House of Pancakes:

… close to there, there is a hill in a county park where Walt Whitman and Jayne, his sister, would walk. There they would sit, on the summit of the hill. From there, they saw the sound to the north and the ocean to the south. On this hill they’d imagine the vistas and views, the seascapes, the geography of Long Island as if from the center of a compass, north, east, south and west: the Long Island sound, Montauk, the Atlantic Ocean and Brooklyn, each a loose ninety degrees from each other. Walt and Jayne on the hill in my hometown. Walt and Jayne, the compass pin; Long Island, the luminous halo surrounding them.

Jayne’s Hill is the highest point on Long Island. The town’s people effectively prevented a police radio tower from being constructed on the hill though there is a water tower there among some low brush, trees and trash, and less grass from time passing, from the drift of man since Whitman’s time, the fallout of suburbanization, what remains of us as loiterers of the land, aloft, afloat, adrift.

I bet my friend in Springs is writing about Whitman’s person, his effusive love, his inclusive citizenry, his poetic democracy and how these things are the essence and influence of Whitman on him, my friend, who is a major writer.

Not me. I am a minor writer. I am here to write about the landscape: Long Island’s city to sea continuum, the island in the shape of a fish, the pine trees and water reserves, with thoughts of the urban planners whose midcentury suburban developments bridge west to east.

In Westhampton, I write about Long Island from the position of South & East, like a buoy that rocks to and fro with the tide, with the soul that is the sea, as human souls are subsumed by the sea, this alluring and dangerous brine. The plover are near extinction as they nest in the high dunes, their babies’ geometry afoot, dim angles in the sand, their nests roped off, our gallant aims to save them. Woefully they cry amid the sounds of the beating sea. Since I have been here, there have been emergency rescues of a swimmer each day, a rip current that drags swimmers out past the breakers, a tidal force that surpasses all will and safeguards, a force that takes all matter with it. Which is as good a definition as any as to what happens to poets when they write. Which is why some poets need to be rescued. Which is why some poets beautify that salt water can carry the human form, how alluring that our bodies are made largely of water, our blood more so, how the sea swallows itself when it takes us with it, as a vacuole drawn out in its own abysmal tide, blown by the wind, wrought by the moon, released where the crest of white horses are breaking.

Which is why some writers must write near the sea. My friend writes in Springs about the depths of man, and I am near. I stand where the sand and water meet: you have done such good to me, I would do the same to you though the ocean does not sleep.