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The Gulf of Riga

by Herbert Morris


It must be to live from summer to summer
to step from Zones of Active Rest
into those Zones of Passive Rest
as though it were the two-step under moonlight
at the open-air dance hall at Asari
we were about to undertake
at evening we would acquiesce to
that long dream of the two-step which in summer
shall be visited on us night to night
the dream we were about to be possessed by

“Traveling wild” they say in Russian
the young who make do with a bed
rented for two dollars a night
never ask of the view
                                            care little
what they eat or
                                 when they may eat it

but with that light flooding their eyes
written in Polish “expectation”
are seen at dusk to haunt the back streets
avenues plotted in a dream
at certain fierce corrosive angles
which we are given to remember
indelibly and not at all
move in unison soundlessly
in the direction of the sea
hung out the dance hall where by twilight
those stars sputter above their heads
which rise each evening over Sweden
dip gently when they reach the Gulf
as though bending to sip clear water
before their tour of all the Russias
in time transform their sun-bruised shoulders
most afternoons are found testing the rides
they may have failed to test the year before
the traveling Czechoslovak amusement park
where they lounge on the benches
                                                                      buy ice-cream
flirt with the tourists
                                           not tire of that game
called simply Origins last season
but which this summer
                                               and for reasons
having to do with shifts in fashion
with the pursuit of the exotic
crossing into unmapped terrain
quests given wholly to the noun
to risk
              adventure
                                   loveliness
they embark on as Voyages
which goes By their garments you shall know them
two guesses each before you ask your subject
distances traveled
                                     place names
                                                              where he started
a forfeit if you hear his language spoken

It must be to have walked the promenade
at evening back and forth a thousand times
have felt the darkness slowly closing in
have heard the last theme of an orchestra
taken up by the darkness where the darkness
is all the theme one asks and all one gets

have glimpsed the lights at every table
where the Juras Perle restaurant
juts out over the blonde sands at Bulduri
like an ocean liner riding at anchor
listing with music
                                    weight of dancers’ bodies
diners at tables taken up
by rhythm
                      water
                                  darkness
                                                     expectation
refracted in their eyes dazzle
of linen
                goblets
                               silver service
offshore the Baltic now dark seeming
somewhere to turn in on itself
beneath the stars of June July
somewhere to darken
                                             slowly deepen
under the moonlight the Gulf of Riga
gleaming with portents
                                               cross-winds
                                                                        signs
Farther west on the coast at Kemeri
where the beach starts it curve for the sweep north
it must be to be shaken by the sight
of the sanitarium perched on sand
sprawled like a wounded eagle where the breakers
batter the grey-white pilings splayed like feathers

peaked Hanseatic roofs
                                                 dark Gothic turrets
shutters sifting the wind for trace of Sweden
rain’s influence
                                some emphasis of salt
foundations hammered into sand
when the name of the century was changed
wing piled on wing
                                      wings devoted to
sulphur treatments
                                      saline therapy
solarium
                   message hall
                                             vapor chamber
chemical whirlpools
                                          mudbaths
                                                               inhalations

three nights a week and every afternoon
concerts by Bulgarian string quartets
“privileged to present for this occasion
prior to bookings at Karlovy Vary
and Mar del Plata that preeminent
soprano from Warsaw” warbling in German
lyrics about the lemon groves at Sochi
depictions of June nights on the Black Sea

cures for overweight
                                         gout
                                                  depression
answers to aging
                                  impotence
                                                        heart failure

on the beach signs delineating
Zones of Passive Rest from
Zones of Active Rest
separating sunbathers with eyes closed
dreaming of darkness falling far from Riga
and the volleyball players
                                                     soccer teams
ball-throwers
                            weight-lifters
                                                        joggers
                                                                       gymnasts
standing there with eyes open
whose bodies like the sun assail their dreams

It must be in the afternoon
still not knowing the names of afternoons
knowing only the name for winter
to take those streets into the walk
which begins and ends at the seawall
that walk into the dream of ports
where it must be to peer for fleets
squint in the mist for masts
                                                        for sails
chaos of waters
                                starboard wakes

It must be to have peered so hard
each afternoon through channel fog
have made one’s peace as well with peering
have peered or dreamt
                                               perhaps imagined
with that Baltic imagination
Sweden itself heaved into view
Sweden across the Gulf of Riga
in a flotilla jammed with ice-floes
riding at anchor
                                 sweating out
the tide.
                 the wait
                                 uneasy textures
of long grey grey-white afternoons
with which we would have had to make our peace

It must be to have named the waiting winter
not yet knowing it was the name for dying

It must be to have languished on that coast
that coast or any other where the light
falls poorly if at all
falls sparely should it fall
fails early when it falls
                                              but less than light

It must be to have learned to wait
                                                                     and wait
not out of what the Poles call “expectation”
but with a weight like dread

have waited there for light
                                                      for warmth
never calling it light or warmth
knowing neither for what we waited
nor that what we suffered was waiting

to have waited for names to wear the months
like mouths
                        so that we might pronounce them
in the pronunciation make them pass in the passage might bring ourselves to June
June of a year for which we know no name
have waited for the openings
of the open-air dance hall at Asari
the traveling Czechoslovak amusement park
to buy ice-cream
                                   not yet tire of that game
taking us south to Isfahan for summer
or at least to the lemon groves of Sochi
waiting for what will open to have opened
knowing that all the opens we shall name

It must be to be leaving the Apollo
any clear evening
                                     late
                                             July or August
touching us as we have not yet been touched
on the walks back this summer
                                                               stars beginning
to take up those assigned positions
having made the crossing from Sweden
for which the name is constellations
the last strains of the combo
                                                           the Rigonda
reaching us as we press the edge
of the pine forest at Dzintari
Love Me Tender
                                   swarms of fireflies
together softly raging in the woods
lighting fires where fires will least be seen
laying light where light will matter most
moonlight through needles threading tree to tree
from limb to limb
                                     The Shadow of Your Smile

It must be to have walked that forest road
at midnight back and forth a thousand times
have smelled on all sides darkness closing in
have heard the repertoire of the Rigonda
for the last time awash pine-scented air
have glimpsed the conflagrations in their hair
casting the very muffled silver sheen
as the stars where they slip beneath the Baltic

“Traveling wild” the Russians call it
that moving out from the Rigonda
moonlight heavy across their shoulders
progress in the direction of the sea
from the open-air dance hall at Asari
where the two-step
                                        where a dream of the two-step
has all night occupied them
for whom it must be to be known
by what all evening occupies them
where it must be to be possessed by dreaming
in the possession not yet name it dreaming
in the dreaming not recognize possession
advancing on the night routes to Dzintari
where the pines hold a darkness to themselves
equal to any darkness on that coast
the young whose bodies dream so deep of darkness
who undertake the night
as though it were the two-step each were launched on
and the one sound escaping them breathes yes
dreamer they spell it nakedness not dreaming

evening to evening June through August
lie on the forest floor together
in an embrace for which no name
but this can do them justice
                                                         lovers

light falling from their shoulders
                                                                    hair
flowering from their fingers
                                                          palms
moonlight encroaching on the pines
from all sides
                            even those not named yet
where it must be to name all sides
in the belief all sides have names
                                                                   the moonlight
laying a street to Sweden on the sea
doing what only moonlight can do
in the wealth of the dark
                                                   define them

 

Herbert Morris was the feature poet in AGNI 4. (Spring 1975)


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