The Way to the Ocean

the way to the ocean
goes through New Jersey

named for an island
where a king once kept his head

on the other side of the Atlantic
an inch and a half farther away each year

which sounds like a tall tale
a sailor might tell

if boardwalk barkers didn’t already
cover the waterfront

on the way to the ocean
circling vultures turn into gulls

fish crows
quack like ducks

a mockingbird riffs from the roof
of a manufactured home

in a manufactured village
right off U.S. Route 322

which has somehow caught up with me
after we parted in the mountains

i walk its broad shoulder
past brown fields and brownfield sites

it’s early spring so most green things
are aliens: privet ivy multiflora rose

aside from a few
prickly natives:

American holly Atlantic whitecedar
and the pines the pines

their high pitch where forest fires licked
what the locals call sugar sand

ducking into the woods
i find an old homeless camp

collapsed tent frame
discarded high-visibility coveralls

on the way to the ocean
is no way to live

to settle like fallen leaves
wherever the wind takes us

living on the road means
a groundhog oblivious to traffic

burrow hidden in a tangle
of Oriental bittersweet

or a burger place across the road
from a billboard for addiction recovery

a farmer on a backhoe
leading a small herd of goats

pray, hope & don’t worry
says a sign by someone’s mailbox

beyond which I find a faded
bouquet of artificial roses

hanging upright where i imagine
it had been flung from a car window

the right of the people to keep and bear arms
shall not be infringed says a billboard

across the highway from a weeping cherry
in full glorious bloom

i turn onto a smaller road
past a resort campground

lakes are easy to make here
where the Atlantic once beached

circling one of them on foot
i am accosted twice

by people wondering whether i’m lost
or am looking for someone

and neither is a question i quite
know how to answer

a woman embracing a bear of a man
rumbles past on a Harley

and off under the pines
all around a derelict trailer

i spot the bright green flags
of skunk cabbages

the way to the ocean
doesn’t wait for continental drift

though perhaps it could i think
standing on the beach at Ocean City

gazing out at the immensity
for a heartbeat or two

then down to my feet
at scallop shells

reminding me that any road
can become a route for pilgrimage

you can walk the boardwalk
out past the end of capitalism

lie down in the sand
and rust

because the true way to the ocean
must begin at the ocean

students running with a kite
a man watching a fishing line

a child who digs shallow holes
and lets them fill with sky

with gratitude to my cousin Heidi Myers Suydam for all her hospitality

2 Replies to “The Way to the Ocean”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.