Four poems in the spirit of mother-ness, introducing a new collection by Sandy Longley.
Passager’s newest book just hit the stands, so to speak. Mothernest by Sandy Longley. It’s a collection of poems deeply rooted in nature and in the author’s concerns about protecting it.
Cape Cod naturalist Dennis Minsky said, “Sandy Longley takes the observed world and makes it shimmer with meaning. On this edition of Burning Bright, four of Sandy’s Mothernest poems that are set on Cape Cod where she lives. First “Amor Mundi.” It’s dedicated “to Annie.”
Dear box turtle, I understand your road crossings –
I, too, move with purpose and deliberation
I, too, am often hard-shelled.
There are berries and grasses to forage, eggs
to lay, clutches to disguise in the underbrush,
predators to flee, ponds to clean.
And yet here we are.
Let me help you cross the road. Like
a Valkyrie in black leggings and silver
I will stop Route 6 traffic with a raised arm and
a fierce stare. I will pick you up (never by the tail)
and bring you to the direction you are going.
Who would renounce jubilation? asked Rilke,
especially for the lowly. By that I mean I dreamed
of resting with you by water’s edge, both of us
emerging from our colorful carapaces, stretching
our turtle necks up into the soft morning light –
a chorus of bullfrogs bassooning their brave songs.
“Amor Mundi,” Sandy Longley. Rte. 6, by the way, is the only road that goes from the start of Cape Cod out to the tip at Provincetown. And also, by the way, that poem inspired Passager designer Christine Drawl to create the tortoise shell image on the cover of Mothernest. Next, Sandy’s poem “A Stranding” about mola mola, gigantic sunfish that can weigh anywhere from 500 to 2,000 pounds.
Two mola mola washed ashore last night
during a full moon and August high tide.
Medallions of luminescence – one
scalloped and finned, parasites embedded
in its bony, sandpapery body, an oversized
manhole with wings – the other one sus-
pended and cratered – both ancient, mythic.
So much was happening in the midst of
this benign death: a white dog strained its
leash at the scent of decomposing flesh;
a child draped a seaweed wreath on a head;
a congregant of cormorants murmured
miserere nobis on small, breaking waves;
from the rooftops black-backed gulls screeched
then dove entrails spilled from their bellies
Something had ended – a pelagic life.
But who can say for sure? Mouths agape,
astonished – their eyes already picked clean,
now dark, empty sockets, where the soul may
reside. The old UU Church bells chimed 9:00.
Come to me, cried the sea beneath a cloudy dome.
By morning the mola mola were gone.
Sandy Longley’s poem “A Stranding” from her new book Mothernest.
Mothernest was runner up in Passager’s 2022 Morgenthau Poetry Prize contest for a writer 70 or older. Morgenthau Prize judge David Keplinger said, “This is a poet in the tradition of Mary Oliver, Elizabeth Bishop and Seamus Heaney, whose poems are at home with borders and frontiers between danger and softness, life and death.” Next, Sandy Longley’s poem “A Kind of Elegy.”
Last night you said you stopped at
Higgins Pond after your appointment
to watch emerald-hooded mallards
tip and dunk for spring promise:
bulrush, minnows, and floating, cloudy
globes of yellow-spotted salamanders.
You crouched on the bank forgetting
the ache in your back, late March
air stinging your exposed neck.
“I hope what comes next is just like
this,” you said, “sweet, earthy, mud smells,
a hint of heat on stones, wind-whipped water.”
A great blue heron landed beside you –
wide wing plumes, a dagger-like bill, head
hunched on shoulders. “He croaked and crooned,”
you said, “like Satchmo on a scratchy 78 LP.”
Sandy Longley’s poem “A Kind of Elegy.”
Since we just celebrated Mother’s Day, we’ll end with this poem by Sandy Longley, “Long Distance.”
There is a phone booth in my seaside
town where you can call the dead.
No quarters or dimes, credit card or
password are needed. You just pick
up the receiver and say something
like “Mom, can you hear me?” Then
You may have to start the conversation
like “Mom, what’s it like there?”
If there’s still no response you might say
“Today, gannets and guillemots grace
the harbor, right whales rise off the Point.”
You take a few deep breaths and then
You think you hear something on the other
end – a distant train whistle? A sigh, like
silk on silk. “Your damask
tea towel covers the sourdough bread.
The cloisonné box is hidden. Mom,
may I ask, what is it you cling to?” Then
All of the poems on this edition of Burning Bright were from Passager’s newest book, Mothernest by Sandy Longley. You can buy Mothernest or any of Passager’s other books or subscribe to or learn more about Passager and its commitment to writers over 50, and lots more. Go to passagerbooks.com.
For Kendra, Mary, Christine, Rosanne, and the rest of the Passager staff, I’m Jon Shorr.
Due to the limitations of online publishing, poems may not appear in their original formatting.