.

Beneath the Tide

The tidal basin ebbs and flows each day
As if it were a sentient, breathing thing—
A pas de deux, a moon-dance interplay—
As time and space, in silence, sway and swing.

As like a fraying tapestry unweaves
The sea withdraws to show its stone-strewn floor;
With empty clamshells lying thick as thieves
Along the barnacle-encrusted shore.

Within our hearts are scattered memories
Of things we’d wish to hide from other’s eyes,
In fear of judgment lest receding seas
Expose our venal failures, faults, and lies.

And yet, beneath each tidal ebb and crest
Lie truth and beauty twined amongst the rest.

.

.

Of Crows and Clams

A clam’s a tasty morsel for a crow.
So, if she sees one on the beach below
She’ll pick it up and lift it to the sky
And drop it on the rocks from up on high

In hope the well-timed fall will crack the shell
And, if it does, then all will turn out well.
And if the clamshell doesn’t crack? Well . . . then
The hungry crow will do it all again.

And when her eager efforts meet success
She’ll eat the hapless clam and leave a mess
Of shattered bits of shell along the shore
Amongst the shells that she has dropped before.

.

.

Long Beach Razor Clams

The setting sun, a gentle off-shore breeze,
And ebbing tide have much to teach
When “donuts,” “dimples,” “keyholes,” “squirts,” and “vees”
Are seen along the surf-line on the beach.

Each sign suggests a razor clam is near,
Perhaps a foot or two beneath the sand.
To dig them out requires simple gear;
A clamming “gun” or shovel in your hand.

The current limit here in Washington
Is set at fifteen razor clams per day.
To find them and to dig them up is fun.
To clean them adds more time along the way.

Next, put them in a chowder, slowly heat them,
And then claim your reward: Which is to eat them!

.

.

Willapa Bay Oysters

Where muddy, shore-side tide-flats ring the bay
Lie salt-sea gardens where, instead of peas
And corn, the seeds of oysters wend their way
Adrift beneath a fresh Willapa breeze.

With outstretched arms they seek the firm embrace
Of rock or shell, to which they cling as tight
As lovers intertwined and lying face-to-face,
Whose silent passions consummate the night.

A cycle of four years before the time
Of harvest bathes them in the sun and air
Where hard-sharp shells are rinsed of grime
And shucked—their prized ambrosial flesh laid bare.

For dilettantes, a feast beyond compare.
The Chinook thought them ordinary fare.

.

Note: “Long Beach Razor Clams” and “Willapa Bay Oysters” were previous published in Sidekicks—Visions of the Pacific Northwest, Dunecrest Press, by David Campiche and James A. Tweedie.

.

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James A. Tweedie is a retired pastor living in Long Beach, Washington. He has written and published six novels, one collection of short stories, and three collections of poetry including Mostly Sonnets, all with Dunecrest Press. His poems have been published nationally and internationally in The Lyric, Poetry Salzburg (Austria) Review, California Quarterly, Asses of Parnassus, Lighten Up Online, Better than Starbucks, WestWard Quarterly, Society of Classical Poets, and The Chained Muse.


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16 Responses

  1. Paul Freeman

    Some vividly-framed images. Did you write them all on a day out to the beach?

    Thanks for a fine quartet of reads, as always, James.

    Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      The gist two were written while at a midcovid family gathering at the location noted under the picture (that shows a low-tide photo of one of my daughters and a grandson). The other two were written several years ago and are relative to where I live in Long Beach Washington.

      Willapa Bay, byte way, is the second largest Bay on the West Coast, is a major wildlife sanctuary, preserves a large old-growth cedar grove on Long Island and is also home to one of the largest concentration of commercial oyster beds in the United States.

      Locally, the Pacific Razor clams are called the Cadillac of clams” and I am heating up some chowder for lunch at this very moment with clams I dug at the beach at the end of my street.

      Reply
  2. C.B. Anderson

    You’ve just reminded me, James, of how much I love to eat shellfish, and also of how a skillful, thoughtful poet can create a poem (“Beneath the Tide”) that not only stimulates the senses and feels like music, but also causes an inquiring mind to traverse many stretches of layered ideas at the same time.

    Thanks for these.

    Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      Very kind of you C. B. Music and poetry and so intertwined it is not surprising that they would both have “layered ideas” adding to their respective richness.

      Reply
  3. David Watt

    Thanks for these four artful poems James. “Beneath the Tide”, unlike your ‘fraying tapestry’, weaves together tide, memories, and human fallibility; all without losing a thread.

    Reply
  4. Margaret Coats

    James, my favorite of these is “Of Crows and Clams.” It is a crystal clear, satisfyingly existential piece on grub and litter.

    However, clams and oysters made me think of a fine poem on the subject, namely Thackeray’s “Ballad of Bouillabaisse.” Made me wonder whether we have any good poems on chowder, but when I looked into that, Pablo Neruda rose to the top of the kettle with a recipe snipped into lines of one to five words. Might take you longer than simmering clams from the end of your street, but this haul leads me to believe you’re our man for making better chowder than the Chilean.

    Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      Margaret,

      Thank you for affirming my culinary expertise. The funny thing is that my youngest daughter tweaked my chowder recipe with such success that I now use her version as the base for my own chowder!

      I have no opinion about Neruda’s chowder but suspect that since he most certainly did not have access to Razor clams, it would not doubt prove to be the inferior of the two chowders.

      As for Thackeray, I had no idea he was a poet at all, and most certainly never considered the possibility of him being a connoisseur of French/Cajun seafood cuisine!

      Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Thackeray didn’t write much poetry, but he collected a volume of verse that he had included in his prose writings or published in periodicals. And if you read “The Ballade of Bouillabaisse,” you’ll see that he’s just as clever as C. B. Anderson at unusual rhymes. Having just looked at online versions, I see that most make some errors with the text, but bartleby.com seems best.

      Reply
      • James A. Tweedie

        C.B. and W.M.T. would do well to share that corner nook in Terré’s tavern and share well-aged, sealed claret and have a good crack o’ banter o’er the etymological science of quantum rhyme-ology.

        What a hoot! Many thanks, dear Margaret, for the citation. It was a master class in hilarity!

  5. Damian Robin

    Thank you for these wonderful poems, James. Naturalistic, informative, absorbing, taking me there on a guided tour, nice of you :^)
    Do you know the relation of the river to the helicopter? Both being called Chinook.

    Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      Damian,

      The Chinook are a Pacific Northwest coastal tribal affiliates sharing a common language and culture. At the time of the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1805 they populated the area north to Gray’s Harbor in Washington State and south near to today’s Lincoln City as well as a considerable way up the lower Columbia River.

      Their interaction with Jacob Astor’s American Fur Company which was later taken over by Hudson’s Bay Company spread their reputation across the NW frontier via the trappers/mountain men and earliest settlers crossing on the Oregon Trail.

      For some unknown reason, the name “Chinook” was given to the strong winds that barrel down the steep slopes of tall mountains–a term often associated with the Rocky Mountains of all places. It is this association of the word with strong, powerful winds that led the U.S. military to bestow the name to the helicopter.

      Sadly, the Chinook people were devastated by smallpox and other diseases for which they had no resistance. Over a period of 50 years their numbers were reduced by an estimated 90%, one of the highest attrition rates recorded among North American native tribes.

      Although several of the smaller tribal affiliations (such as the Shoalwater branch just to the north of Willapa Bay) received US government/Federal recognition as tribes, the central Chinook tribe (that populated the lower Columbia) were so decimated by various plagues that the treaty they signed with government agents were never ratified or kept. There have been a number of legal attempts by the tribe to gain the promised recognition but Congress has refused to take action to approve or even consider the request.

      Even so, the unrecognized tribe maintains a tribal office at Bay Center on Willapa Bay and gained some recognition recently when one of their tribal members was elected as the Sheriff of Pacific County.

      Since I can’t post them here, I will email you two pictures that show something of the tribes existence today.

      There is, by the way, a very small river named the “Chinook River” that flows into the Columbia just to the west of a small town that also carries the name. I’ll send you a picture of that, too!

      They were masters of the canoe and friendly to

      Reply
      • Damian Robin

        Thank you for your vey versatile and clever and skillful photographs via email. The are very vibrant with colour and experimentation in contrast to the subdued and sophisticated one above.

        And thank you for the very informative reply here. A bit of a travelogue of the area and a brochure for the Chinook tribes.

        Very much appreciated,
        D

  6. Cynthia Erlandson

    These are all beautiful, James, but I especially love the metaphorical nature, quality of description, and musicality of “Beneath the Tide”.

    Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      Thank you, Cynthia. You are not the first to refer to the poem’s “musicality.” This is most interesting to me because I did not notice that when I wrote it – and I usually do!

      Reply

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