Today is the birthday of Elizabeth Bishop, the poet born in 1911. She was born on the birthday of no less an author than Jules Verne, who was born this day in 1828. Verne was a father of Science Fiction writing and his legacy is treated almost as a religion by some. These are the Vernians, the true believers who think Jules Verne’s books are scientific manuals rather than fantastic stories.
Vernians have been prominent in film. In the 2008 version of “Journey to the Centre of the Earth” the lead characters use an annotated copy of Verne’s novel to retrace his steps. Vernianism also has a part to play in Back to the Future III. Doc Brown and the love of his life, Clara Clayton, are committed Vernians.
Now get this: Clara Clayton is played in the movie by Mary Steenburgen, born in 1953, ON THIS DAY. Coincidence? I think not!
The Bight: by Elizabeth Bishop
At low tide like this how sheer the water is.
White, crumbling ribs of marl protrude and glare
and the boats are dry, the pilings dry as matches.
Absorbing, rather than being absorbed,
the water in the bight doesn’t wet anything,
the color of the gas flame turned as low as possible.
One can smell it turning to gas; if one were Baudelaire
one could probably hear it turning to marimba music.
The little ocher dredge at work off the end of the dock
already plays the dry perfectly off-beat claves.
The birds are outsize. Pelicans crash
into this peculiar gas unnecessarily hard,
it seems to me, like pickaxes,
rarely coming up with anything to show for it,
and going off with humorous elbowings.
Black-and-white man-of-war birds soar
on impalpable drafts
and open their tails like scissors on the curves
or tense them like wishbones, till they tremble.
The frowsy sponge boats keep coming in
with the obliging air of retrievers,
bristling with jackstraw gaffs and hooks
and decorated with bobbles of sponges.
There is a fence of chicken wire along the dock
where, glinting like little plowshares,
the blue-gray shark tails are hung up to dry
for the Chinese-restaurant trade.
Some of the little white boats are still piled up
against each other, or lie on their sides, stove in,
and not yet salvaged, if they ever will be, from the last bad storm,
like torn-open, unanswered letters.
The bight is littered with old correspondences.
Click. Click. Goes the dredge,
and brings up a dripping jawful of marl.
All the untidy activity continues,
awful but cheerful.