A slight break in protocol today in order to present this unpublished poem by the late Nelson Bentley, dated 1954. Many thanks to Sean Bentley for the opportunity to publish a beloved figure in Washington’s poetic history one more time.
Kalaloch: Looking Toward Destruction Island
A driftwood barricade blends into dying pines.
On the beach, Thomas’s hullabalooing clams,
Gull and pipers, run
Through a creek where it meets the ocean.
The tide’s rolling
Backs me toward driftwood. Destruction Island
With its white lighthouse is a long black rock
Some miles at sea. A tree holds roots aloft,
Foot and head
Irrelevant in the pattern.
The low roar of ocean
Takes voice in the first row of whitecaps.
The horizon towers. Stillness deep
In driftwood juts seaward. In the last rim of pines
A crow calls. One washed-up trunk points
Inland like a cannon, roots smoothed as shell.
Gulls and creek water are smally
Beautiful as I walk pushing a buggy.
Gull feathers, shell fragments, lodge and dislodge.
Sandpipers run on their reflections,
Between wave reaches.
A clan of shells on the wet
Mirror spread butterfly wings, just lit,
Black on fresh fragrant sand.
I watch the pipers, white bellies and
Speckled backs, fragile feet, bills dabbing, as they run
To keep on the verge. What focuses the scene
Is the slender human footprint
Beside the assortment of twelve bright stones;
Beth’s brown form and black hair,
Far down the tidal fringe;
Shawn at four months in blue turtleneck sweater,
Alert eyes from his buggy above the foam’s reach.
Beside him, in the wet sand, a gull flies.
Foaming cold swirls around my ankles,
Brushed by gullfeathers.
Flying pipers sound over surf’s white thundering.
The tide digs hollows
Under my heels;
The sandpipers’ feet and their
Reflections dance the shore.
Nelson Bentley (1918 – 1990) studied under W. H. Auden. He was a friend and colleague of Theodore Roethke, among other Northwest poets who created a distinct regional voice. In his forty years as a professor at the University of Washington, he conducted workshops, hosted readings at literary venues around the city and on radio and public television, juried poetry contests, edited poetry for journals and newspapers, and was a co-founder of Poetry Northwest and The Seattle Review. Although he was a fine poet in his own right, he believed his own greatest accomplishment to be his work in teaching hundreds of other poets who published in nationally recognized poetry outlets. He founded the Castalia Reading Series, which started at the University of Washington in the mid-seventies and continues today. The Friends of Nelson Bentley continue to celebrate his life and legacy.