I visited family on the Oregon coast over the holidays. For those of you who’ve never been there, it’s a rugged, beautiful place. In the winter, storms hammer the beaches, uprooting seaweeds, ripping buoys from their moorings and crushing it all against the rocks.
I went for a walk early one morning. There was no one on the beach; the water had retreated from the cliffs and laid bare a long stretch of sand. December is not the time to go beachcombing for sand dollars or scallop shells, so you’ll understand my amazement when I found a light bulb as big as a basketball lying like a beached jellyfish in the sand.
Where had it come from? Did it fall from the cabin of a passing trawler? Or from a bayside cannery warehouse? Wreckage from the tsunami in Japan has been washing up on Oregon beaches for months—but a light bulb? How could such a delicate thing separate from its fittings, travel across the great expanse of the Pacific, and somehow dodge the watery minefield of coastal rocks to perch safely in the sand?
Because I knew the tide was on its way back in, I picked up the light bulb and tucked it behind a tuft of beach grass, thinking that I’d finish my walk, then take it up off the beach. If it had made it all this way, the least I could do was keep it safe from the incoming tide. But by the time I finished my walk, it was gone. Someone else must have found it, and, struck by the absurdity of a giant light bulb in a patch of beach grass, carried it away.
It was just trash, really. Flotsam. But it was beautiful, too, in a sad sort of way.
I’m writing a novel in verse right now. Poems are fragile, particular things, while novels are unruly and unpredictable. It isn’t easy getting the two to work together.
Of course, writers see metaphor in everything, but I like to think there was a message for me in that glass bulb finding its way onto the sand.