Tuesday, July 14, 2009

From the Cut: Poem for my Mother, Painting for my Father

(Moment in Time, Gloucester, Massachusetts-
Painting by Kevin Macneil Brown, watercolor on paper, 2009)


He had heard, outside the harbor
The singing, unseen, of
The men at the oars;
That deep rumbling song
So hard to discern from
The sound of the
Far waves that, finally,
Called him.

Whether that singing
Was the sound of flesh and blood men
Hidden by fog, or
Was carried by ghosts
Across time and water,
He neither knew nor cared.

That was back when
This place--Cape Ann--was
Truly an island;
After Reverend Blynman’s canal-cut
Was made so that Annisquam
Could mingle
Her waters with the Atlantic;

Before Andrews’ tall bridge
Brought Sunday drivers
Across from the mainland west.

My mother remembers, at least
In part, those times,

When in summer the whitecaps
And sails on blue-green water might
Rise to meet the uncountable gray-white
Wings of gulls in the hazy sky;

Or in winter the
Cold black crows
Cast shadows on —even colder— the
Rocks scattered all over the
Bare, sparse, Dogtown heights.

Now all this, I
Know, has changed
But has also remained the same

And that sea that had called him
To its heart
has given up in his memory
For us to hold, for now,

At the very least,
Sea glass.

-Kevin Macneil Brown


I can thank my parents, Patricia Macneil and Norman Brown, both of Gloucester, Massachusetts, for my deep and abiding love for the power of place.

The first place by far-- and one rich in legend, myth, history, art, land and seascape--was Gloucester, of course. But growing up I learned from both my parents to keep my eyes and heart engaged with every place we lived over the years: to seek and find signs of the ancient and timeless alike.

The poem was written while I ran on wooded trails in Vermont, the words rising as a memory of stories and mysteries my mother has talked about.

As for the painting: My father always talked about childhood memories of climbing a certain hill above the harbor, of sitting alone watching boats leave the harbor and feeling a sense of transcendence. He called these experiences "moments in time", echoing, perhaps, Wordsworth.
( After his death, I climbed that hill with my mother and sisters to scatter some of his ashes--it was a place of granite and grass and pear trees above the silver-gray harbor.)
Immediately after finishing the painting I knew without doubt that it was for my father. It was only a bit later that I remembered I'd started it on Father's Day.