This poem is from the winter of 1983-84, when I was living in Southern California just south of Laguna Beach. Dana Point was a small coastal town that has since expanded to the extent that there is now a Ritz Carlton there. When I was there it was the bottom edge of the Orange County megalopolis. A Christmas tradition is the harbor parade of decorated boats.—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, crockery,…boots and shoes from Lynn, calicoes and cottons from Lowell….”—Richard Henry Dana, Jr., “Two Years Before the Mast”
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: garage industry, two sewing machines busy stitching. A chocolate parcel truck picks up custom-made bikinis. The pet tropical bird screeches. Worn out, Dana quit Harvard College, set off to cure “a weakness of the eyes.” His ship rounded the Cape: rain-wind, salt-snow, fried-air pushed the “Pilgrim” toward California.
On this strip, San Juan Capistrano’s beachhead, the bronzed author keeps watch. In Vons Market on Ortega Drive, handling a blue plastic bowl molded in a plant upriver from the Lowell mills, I recalled the ship’s cargo, the stuff we swap, like that tough New England cloth.
Christmas 1834. Just north of the equator, Dana wrote, “It brought us no holiday.” Twenty days from the palm beaches, a hundred-plus from Boston wharf, the crew’s provisions had run out. Jump-cut to 1983. “Pilgrim II” rigged with colored lights. Flashbulbs pop in Dana West Marina at the Yuletide parade of boats—all the kids and captains harmonize on “Little Saint Nick.”
—Paul Marion (c) 2006, from “What Is the City?”