I wrote this poem on the West Coast, when I was in graduate school at the University of California in 1983-84. I had moved across country and wanted to write something about the coincidence of living in Dana Point, which had a Massachusetts and even a Lowell connection. The composition appears here as a prose poem.—PM
“Our cargo was an assorted one; that is it consisted of everything under the sun. We had spirits of all kinds, … raisins, molasses, hardware, crockeryware, … boots and shoes from Lynn, calicoes and cottons from Lowell, ….”—Richard Henry Dana, Jr., Two Years Before the Mast (1841)
Everyone’s home on Seville, condo units nose to nose, pleasure boats in their slips—kitchen screens are speakers full of the noise we make. Across the street it was garage industry, two non-stop sewing machines. A chocolate parcel truck picked up custom-cut bikinis. Pet tropical birds screech. Worn out, Dana quit Harvard College, set out to cure “a weakness of the eyes.” His ship Pilgrim looped the Cape—rain-wind, salt-snow, fried-air rushing sails toward California. This strip on the Pacific, San Juan Capistrano’s beachhead, now hails the writer in bronze. In Vons Market on Ortega Drive, handling a blue plastic bowl molded in a plant upriver from the Lowell mills, I recalled the Pilgrim‘s cargo, the stuff we swap, like that old tough cloth. Christmas, 1834. Just north of the equator, Dana wrote, “It brought us no holiday.” Twenty days from palm beaches, a hundred-plus from Boston Wharf, the crew’s provisions had run out. Leap to 1983. Pilgrim II rigged with colored lights; flashbulbs pop in Dana West Marina at the Yuletide boat parade—all the kids and captains harmonize on “Little Saint Nick.”
Dana Point, Calif.
Paul Marion (c) 1984, 2014