The Road to Digby Neck

Landscape, Family, Memory – and 9/11

  I dream of journeys repeatedly – so begins Theodore Roethke’s visionary poem ‘The Far Field’, which I read for the first time over twenty years ago now. In the poem, what begins as a stringent, metered eulogy to landscape expands to end in a metaphysical meditation on infinity – on the transmission between its dimensionless glimmer, the land, and us.

   I read this poem long before the dreams of journeys by plane, specifically not being able to fly because all air travel has been grounded; also dreams of planes crashing, usually while trying to land. In the dreams the planes were felled not by wind or mechanical failure but by wires, like telegraph wires. 

   Before my trip to Canada and the States that year these dreams had become more insistent. In them, over and over again I am stranded somewhere in North America because international aviation has been cancelled and there are no flights home to Europe. In desperation I board planes to Vancouver, to Toronto, but they are going in the wrong direction, or they fail to take off, and I can’t get home. 




The flight takes me from London to New York; at Newark I will catch another plane and fly back up to Nova Scotia – a lot of back-tracking, but that’s the way the ticket works. After seeing friends in Halifax I must fly back down to New York; from there I will take a train to Washington, DC, where I will attend an academic conference. Then I will spend a week in early-to-mid September in New York City itself, having meetings with business and academic contacts. 

     We fly directly over Halifax, unmistakeable in the perfect visibility, with its neat peninsula bounded by the dark blotch of Bedford Basin, an extraordinarily deep former freshwater lake. The sun glints off the two silk threads of the harbour bridges, the MacDonald and the MacKay, strung between Dartmouth and Halifax. If only I could be let off here and parachute 29,000 feet down. 

     I sit on the right hand side of the aircraft. I have a perfect view of the Bay of Fundy. I see Digby Neck, a tendril of land strung above the hump of Nova Scotia’s back, bordered on one side by a gigantic bay raked by the highest tides in the world. The Bay of Fundy drains twice daily then refills, powered by a churning tidal gyre. During the 12.4 hour long tidal period 115 billion tonnes of water flow into the bay; in places the difference between high and low tide is 17 metres.

     We are over the Gulf of Maine when suddenly the plane’s engines flare and we accelerate rapidly, banking to the left, heading out over the Atlantic. I flip up my windowshade, which I have closed in deference to the snoozing passengers around me, and find another plane, so close I can see the silhouettes of the passengers through the portholes, arching away from us. I estimate three to five miles separate us, wingtip to wingtip. At our groundspeed of 500 miles an hour we would have collided within seconds. 

     I look around me to see if anyone else has seen the plane, but the other passengers sit blindfolded by eye masks, or watching films. Should I knock on the cockpit door and ask the pilots, what’s going on – excellent visibility; don’t you have radar; what about the collision warning systems? I do nothing, because in part I want to believe that nothing has happened. There was no plane alongside us. I imagined the whole thing.

     We fly on in the cosseting semi-darkness of the cabin. I keep my windowshade open, just in case. The rigid white light of late summer falls across my legs, but there is no warmth in it. The plane hums on through the stratosphere.  





Highway 217 is 95 kilometres long. It forms the backbone of that slim finger pointing into the Gulf of Maine. He would see it so clearly from the air in the planes he would fly years later, gliding over the narrow glacier-gouged province of his birth. 

     There is nowhere else in the world like the Neck, forged from a lava flow and shaped like the handle of a violin bow at its thickest, least itinerant point, before whittling to a sliver just over 3 kilometers wide that peters out in Brier Island. He will drive the Neck that night. He doesn’t know why, only that he is being compelled to arrive at the edge of things. 

     The tidal bore appears as a narrow silver wave; he can see it coming on the horizon, a twice-daily visitation by a miniature tsunami. On the mudflats sand pipers, clams, junebugs, sand worms, quahogs, mussels, barnacles lie in wait for the cover of water. Without it they are exposed. Overhead crows, hawks, bald eagles and seagulls sortie to spot the flash of sun on wet flesh. 

     He has to make a decision: whether to leave, or to stay. 

     Near the end of Highway 217 the spit of land fragments into three narrow islands. Here ferries must be taken, tiny engineless four-car floats, pulleyed across the sand banks on a chain. Once, not so long ago, the chain broke, and the ferry with its cargo of five cars and their passengers drifted out into the Bay of Fundy. There was nothing to be done except wait for the tide to deliver it back to shore.

     He wears a lumberjack shirt, James Dean jeans. There is something louche about him with his narrow hips, dark hair, dark eyes, broad forehead. He has just completed a Masters in forestry – two years scrabbling in forests of tamarack, white birch, black pine. 

     It is late July. The water in the bay is a single tile of silver slate. He passes raw inlets, their charcoal-coloured rocks encrusted with molluscs wheezing, bordered by fireweed, black knapweed, wild iris. Much of the road is lined by tall sea cliffs. He is a fossil hunter, an amateur geologist. He can read this ice age landscape with its abandoned boulders, the spruce forest and its haze of angles, the soil whose parsimony so shocked our peat-weaned ancestors. The rock is Triassic basalt, formed at the time of the Lapteus Ocean, a body of water which appeared after the dissolution of Pangea and which had riven New Brunswick in two. In the basalt flows of North Mountain he scours for a shimmer of jasper, amethyst, quartz, zeolite. 

    In the time it takes to drive the Neck he will witness one and a half tidal phases, he will watch as the fishing boats are levitated 17 metres from their sandy moorings, buoying them level with the wharves. Then, a moment of poise, of stalled saturation, before the gyre starts to drain the water out again.




We are ten, eleven, twelve and we are swimming at Blomidon. At high tide the beach is nearly erased and we scrabble into the water over a perimeter of pebbles. I watch my fingers and toes turn blue; on emerging our lips have also taken on this mortuary hue, and our flesh is red with cold. We sit on the beach wrapped in towels, shivering, watching the water drain away to reveal the stranded cargo on the mudflats: salt-petrified oranges, driftwood in the shape of small dinosaurs, sun-bleached sea urchin shells. 

     The Bay is rimmed with pine islands. Roots of scrawny spruce trees grip their rocks like tentacles. I sink up to my knees in the suctioning mud of low tide. Under cloud the mud is the colour of thin coffee but a fleshy tone, a kind of pink-ochre in the midsummer sun barking overhead. The mud is dotted with air bubbles, signs of a thousand small mouths. 

     On the way home we gorge ourselves at U-Picks, our mouths stained red with strawberry juice. Behind us the Bay empties and fills, the unsteady horizon rising to the sky and then draining out of sight. We are children, and so we do not yet know that we will not always be here. Time expands and we luxuriate in forever. Home is only that place where we work out our relationship to destiny.


The Drive


It’s one of those bulbous-nosed farm pickups. The gear shift sticks, the brake pads are frayed, butter-coloured foam bubbles through the passenger seat. Ahead he sees a ribbon of Nova Scotia tarmac, that distinctive sunbleached denim hue so unique that once, while watching an American film ostensibly set on Long Island, I was gripped by an acute homesickness. As the credits rolled I understood why: it had been filmed in coastal Nova Scotia. North America is an emporia of freedoms, one of which is to simply drive. You drive not so much to get anywhere, but so that you know for sure you are alive.

      He has one hand on the steering wheel, another clutches a cigarette. It is the summer of 1968 and he is twenty-four years old. How can he know that some decisions we take loiter like spectres in our lives? 

     The lemon light simmers, then is replaced on the edge of the sky by a soaring plume of red. 

     Rossway, Gulliver’s Cove, Waterford. The names fit the geography of the Neck like a glove. He is more dissatisfied now with the narrow corridors of memory, with words like morals and choice. Today, he needs a future. 

     The sun hangs low over the Bay. Now it is sherbet-bright, but soon it will sink into tangerine, the persimmon beloved of the Algonquin peoples who once sleeked through these forests.

     Centreville, Lake Midway, Sandy Cove. From the radio spill songs already passé elsewhere but which will be played over and over on Nova Scotia radio stations for years to come: ‘Harper Valley PTA’ by Jeannie C. Riley, ‘Mony, Mony’ by Tommy James and the Shondells. Whenever that summer’s hit, ‘Love Child’ by Diana Ross and The Supremes, comes on the radio, he switches it off.

     He wonders why no-one seems to think: here, love, let’s rest and be content. Here we can be happy for awhile. No, we want it to go on forever. We are greedy for more and more future. He is an adventurer, perhaps; he has no talent for planning for the future, but then we don’t, as a species, even though it is the future which dazzles us, with its gassy expansiveness ransacked by possibilities. But the future is just like today: another day, then another and another. Most of the time, nothing much happens. Then, suddenly, it does.


The Crescendo


In late August 2001, two jets nearly collide over the Gulf of Maine. I am on one of them. Or it was only a routine encounter, and we were never in any danger, thanks to the excellent visibility, the radar systems? My father was a pilot, he would have known. My mother, unusually for a woman from the Maritimes and of limited means, also obtained her private pilot’s license. I am the only one of the three of us who cannot fly a plane.

     An energy is gathering. I feel it, although not consciously. The days that deliver me to that definitive day are too bright, anticipatory. On September 9th, crossing Chesapeake Bay on an Amtrak train from Washington to New York I wonder why does everything look so crisp, so rooted in reality? The shy storks and herons standing in the brackish waters on the rim of the bay, the way the sunlight ricochets off the chrome of passing cars, the women sitting on tenement steps as we streak through Baltimore. Everything looks etched. It looks meant. 

     I register my suspicion, then dismiss it. I can’t know what I am intuiting. After all, no-one knows the future.




Mink Cove, Little River. The old convenience store has been on this spot for a hundred years. The overall-clad owner tells him, ‘it used to be coaches and horses that stood outside, feed bags over the horses’ heads, them being drenched in water in the summer. I remember it myself.’ Then it was a day’s coach ride from Long Island to the mainland, down to Meteghan. 

     He buys a Baxter’s ice cream, chocolate (this will be my favourite flavour, too), peers amiably into the windows of old clapboard houses, sees the net curtains, old Singer sewing machines, doilies on cool lintels against the dusky orange heat. In darkened kitchens old women sit in rockers. 

     He makes his peace with the things he will never know. There are no ruins on the Neck; unlike me he will never see Rome, Athens, the great lost Mayan cities of the jungle. A man might pass through this new land and leave only footprints. But these are quickly swallowed by the tide.

     Whale Cove, Tiddville, East Ferry. There are no whales in Whale Cove. At least not at the moment. Wrong season, or wrong time in the season, an old man wearing a lumberjack shirt tells him. ‘They’re down near Maine, feeding,’ the man says, as if he knows them personally. 

     Sunset on the peninsula, unaligned with neither the sky nor the earth. The sand like the flanks of racehorses heaving; underneath them, quahogs brew. 

     Long Island, Brier Island. Four bodies of water surround Brier Island: The Atlantic Ocean, the Bay of Fundy, St Mary’s Bay, Grand Passage. 

     Where am I? Fizzing into life in an incubation chamber. I have been given my coordinates, and they are set. I am very nearly ready for re-entry. I get the word from Ground Control: get ready. There will be a burning feeling, but don’t worry. We’ll catch you when you fall.

     He is never closer to me than at that moment. He stands on a shore near Boar’s Head lighthouse in the darkening gleam of a Nova Scotia summer. An instant separates us. We might be ships, or planes, passing in the night.


A Refusal


8.35am. I am on the street in lower Chinatown when a plane roars overhead flying very low. The sound of its engines is more a tear than a roar, it takes up all the available space in my head. I look up but the slice of sky above me is too narrow, and the plane, which is slightly to my left, is hidden behind a building. But I do catch a glint of silver paint. I say to myself: that’s an American Airlines plane. 

     There is a loud thud, and the sound of metal and crashing glass – sheets and sheets of it. The ground beneath my feet shudders. There is no explosion, actually the sound is muffled, as if several trucks or other large vehicles had collided far away. 

     I walk south. Any moment I will turn the corner and be shown that the plane I glimpsed flying far too low over Manhattan has not crashed into a building, it was merely circling for La Guardia, and that the sound I heard, the thick dull thud, was some other accident. 

     The plume of black smoke comes into view, then soon after it the airplane-sized hole in the World Trade Center – I do not yet know whether it is the South Tower or the North, until now I haven’t really thought of the buildings as separate entities. It’s an optical illusion. I allow my brain to refuse its meaning. That is not real. My mind stalls uselessly in a serene rut. I insist on following my plan for the day. Will I have time to go to the Whitney between my first and second meetings?

     What is happening in that moment is well documented in photographs, in bystander footage, in documentaries. But there is a chaotic and subjective dimension to personal experience which – no matter how vérité the style – the camera fails to capture. The way everything slows down and speeds up, for example, as if I am being paused and fast-forwarded through time. Or the stomach plunge of horror. 

     I am only dimly aware of others like me, sleepwalking toward the buildings, squinting into the light of a perfect Indian summer morning. I have approached the Towers in this mesmeric state, and am now only four blocks away. Very soon I start to see oblong black pieces of debris falling through the sky; but it’s not debris, yes, look at how the white sheet billows, no it’s a shirt. Where these people stood only seconds before, perched on the edge of a jagged broken building, flames now emerge, clutching at their vanished bodies. I do not avert my eyes. I do not have time to think, I have never watched anyone die before. I am transfixed by the sickening simplicity of their dilemma: because they are so high up, and cannot get down, they must die.

     Between the canyons of the buildings another puzzle emerges. A jet appears. It is heading straight for where I stand. Then an explosion roars through my head. It is the loudest sound I have ever heard, much louder than the impact of the first plane, which had sounded so delicate and clinical, like a glass orchestra. The ground shakes. 

     What I feel is not panic, or fear, or dread, but the familiarity of it all. I have been expecting it. This was the first thing I think: oh, it’s here. It’s arrived. But what is it? The end of the world? World War Three? It had only felt like an increase in pressure, a crescendo, both inside and outside me. All that time it has been waiting to exist, and now it’s here.




It’s the 1970s and I grow up five or six hours away by road from where he lives, on an island of rustbelt towns, gaunt streets where only funeral parlours and the Liquor Commission do a thriving business. This is a town of houses painted mint green and which overlook a stewing sea and its foam of industrial efflux, nothing like his stentorian Valley town, its wooden palaces with corpulent verandas. But there are things we share: the gawky cawing of crows, the blue-sunk mountains, the evening sun disappearing into a garrison of black spruce and tamarack.

     Once, we passed him on the Trans-Canada highway, although I didn’t know about it until much later, when my grandmother eventually divulged who she and my mother were exclaiming about that day – ‘is it him? I’m sure it’s him! - a figure in a checked shirt bent over the steering wheel of an old Dodge pick-up we overtook in our gas-guzzling station wagon somewhere near Truro.

     In those years I never went looking for the residue of his existence. I was twelve, thirteen, fourteen and spent my vacations on Highway 104, driving from Halifax to Cape Breton and back for funerals, to visit relatives in lung cancer wards, the mental hospital, the detox. Radio stations played the same songs incessantly: ‘Working my Way Back to You’ by the Spinners, ‘Cars’ by Gary Numan. Then summers for me were a purgatory; it seemed as if time had not only stopped but had stubbornly gone into reverse, winding backwards through the ages: Quaternary, Triassic, Jurassic. You can hear the minutes hesitate, then decide to keep their counsel. The Spinners keep spinning.


A Dream Made Real is Still a Dream


Suddenly people are running in all directions, without looking where they are going. I will remember the woman who falls face-first on the asphalt in the middle of 6th Avenue; her shiny red nails claw at the asphalt, ripping her fingers open. I think I might faint from the heat and my impromptu sprint uptown, after the impact of the second plane’s explosion. I duck into a grocery store and buy a banana and a bottle of water. I am surprised to find the shopkeeper still there, as if I expected him to have deserted his post.

     I walk out into the blaring sun. I am covered in a thin mist of sweat. I am shaking, but only slightly. My body seems to be trying to contain its responses.

     I look at the burning buildings and think, they will last two hours, tops. I am not a structural engineer but I am very certain about this. And when the first comes toppling down the time of its dissolution – actually a slow process, relative to the planes – passes in an instant, and all around me people scatter as in cartoons where everybody runs in a different direction and all crash into each other. 

     I am not afraid, rather detached. I look at the deserted cross-streets and marvel at the camber of Manhattan. I hadn’t noticed how the island rose in the centre, how this hump tapered toward each shore. The only sounds are car radios blaring up-to-the-minute reports. Single words volley out: hijack, terrorists, Palestine. Bystanders and van drivers and businessmen expound wild immediate theories. The sky is ripped open above our heads. Instinctively I duck, just in time to see a fighter plane cruising down Fifth Avenue. 

     I remember the dreams of planes landing in cities, on deserted avenues. In the dreams the planes can’t get enough altitude, so the plane must land in the city, on the street, amongst all the wires. It is shredded, just like a boiled egg cut with one of those wire contraptions. I am in the plane. Sometimes I escape, sometimes I don’t. 

     The strange thing is, now that I seem to be alive within one of my dreams, I feel let down by my intuition (if that’s what it is). Having dreamt about this day, anticipated it perhaps on some cellular level, does not help me live through it. There is a bracing exigency to the real which I actually prefer. The dream was always far more fearful than the reality – not that I am not frightened, as I duck pointlessly in the tear of the jet fighter’s wake. What’s the point of intuition, never mind premonition? We may as well live blind, and perhaps this is the whole point: human beings cannot withstand knowing much future.


Night Messages


That night he will sleep in the truck, parked along the shore well above the tideline. First he buys a bottle of Coke and a pack of chips, his supper for the night. The convenience store is hot; inside the chocolate bars melt in their wrappers and the pop bottles are mired in a cooler full of tepid water. The store owner appears from a pantry in the back where she has been sitting in a rocking chair, fanning her face. Her eyes light up at the sight of him. At last, a handsome man has arrived at the end of the world.  What can I get ya dear?

     He parks his truck at the edge of a dune, where the grass will give him enough traction to drive out, looks out through the murky headlights clouded by the corpses of wasps, bees, moths. The road narrows toward the end, were there is only one lane. The hair grass is thin, resinous, like violin strings. 

     A message is congealing in the crystal river of time, around one of the bends we call the future. But for now he is twenty-four years old and his girlfriend of four years is pregnant. In September she will have their child. He knows what he must do: marry her, settle down here, give up dreams. Drive from Zellers to Canadian Tire, along hushed wooded highways, misted vaulting valleys. Perhaps one day, if he can stand it for long enough, he will take bring his daughter here to Digby Neck to watch the tide fill the Bay of Fundy, then retreat. 

     He will never leave Canada. I will leave the country at twenty-one and spend the rest of my life away. I will journey far afield and well off the beaten track, living for awhile in the Falkland Islands, in Antarctica, in the Arctic; in southern Africa in a city on a windswept cape. I will become an habitué of rim-named places and their turbulent, empty seas. 

     Unbeknownst to me he has lived much of his life in Berwick, Nova Scotia, or maybe it’s Waterville – it’s not clear. I have never been to either, but I can imagine them: small Valley towns stupefied by heat in the summer, buried under snowdrifts in winter. I don’t know what happened, why I never met him. I’ve heard it might have something to do with the will of his pioneer maven mother, who wanted nothing to do with my mother, perhaps, and therefore me. I will never know if I would have liked him, or he me. 

     I do know he has more than a passing knowledge of physics, because he can fly a plane. So he knows there is no flow of time; there is no now creeping through the world. He knows that time is not a mathematical reality but an illusion of human consciousness. It might be grandiose and slow, as in geological time, or very fast, as in the time it takes him to lever himself off the ground in a glider, but it is perceptual: we have to be here to perceive it, or to think we do. Really time is an abstract entity. 

     Driving the road to Digby Neck that night for the last time he knows nothing of his future, nothing at all of the future marriage of my mother, her three children (apart from me), nothing of me and the lonely flat roads I will drive at the bottom of the world. Why is it that we can’t see ahead? Life is so gauged against our survival; if only we could see around corners, he thinks, we could protect ourselves from our futures, from our fates.


The Wire


A year before the day when I will make that trip to New York, I am in my office in London on a Friday afternoon trying to tie up work for the week, when an email arrives from my mother. I peer at the subject line: I don't need to explain what you are about to read this Friday. LOVE & prayers, mommy. This is strange, because I have never called her ‘mommy’ in my life.

     In the email is an obituary. I peer at the name, wondering if it is a distant cousin, a family member I haven’t seen in many years. The obituary says that the man died on May 22, 2000Whoever he was, he was born in Salt Springs, Pictou County. Beneath the obituary is a short news article, pasted from the internet. I read on:

     The victim's glider was being launched by cable from a motorized winch when it crashed at the Stanley airport. "It's extremely uncommon," said Mr. Daly, who has been flying since 1972. "It's the first I've been around." RCMP from the Windsor detachment were on the scene Monday and the Halifax office of the Transportation Safety Board was sending a team to investigate the accident. 

I realise who he is. The understanding is not gradual, seeping in from bits of information gleaned in the obituary; rather it falls on my head like a stone. Inside me is a strange cascading feeling. Something is running down me, or through me. I leave my desk and go to sit in the library. I stay there for a long time, until the light outside begins to darken to the blue pewter of a May evening in the British Isles.




I am on only the third international flight cleared for take-off from Newark. I am not allowed to take a bottle of water through security and two armed marshals are placed on our flight. These are easily spotted – huge men with black holsters slung over their shoulder. I have never been on a flight with men carrying guns before. We passengers are hushed. Many of us stand transfixed at the window looking over the Hudson at the smouldering heap in lower Manhattan. 

     Only five days – or was it six? – had passed since I had entered the intact city on a train from Washington on a burnished early autumn day. Yet it seemed like much more time had passed. The present moment had been elongated by what I had witnessed in downtown Manhattan, inflated until it had taken up all available space in my mind, evicting my dreamy preoccupations, pointless fantasies. And in the temporary lacunae when my past and future had disappeared, a window had opened, a kind of portal. 

     For a short period of time, fear permitted me to think about a few things I’d obviously been avoiding: Why, while he was alive, did I never try to find him; nor did he me, to my knowledge? I had never known my father, now I never would know him. The nevers were accumulating and at the same time the future was shrinking – this was another thing I’d learned, watching those people die, people who had gone to work and sat at their desks just a few minutes previous to the airplanes’ bizarre intrusion into their space-time, as if it were any other day. The future could retract itself so crudely. And suddenly there would be no more time.

     On that day I rang my colleagues in London and my partner, who was at that moment cycling across Tower Bridge, took the call on his mobile. They were encouraging. They said: just get out of there. Do whatever you can to save yourself. I rang my mother. She said, ‘I’m sorry to tell you this, but there are more planes heading for Manhattan.’ I heard that note in her voice again, low and tremulous; the one I had been hearing for many years. It was hope. Not that I would escape the inevitability of the rain of fire those planes would pour on the island of Manhattan, but that I would not. 

     Years unwound in my head. Strange anger, no – rage, not conscious, but still, directed at me. The aerodynamic velocity of it, as if it were a solid silver thing.  A suspended timeless awareness that my existence could be have been reversed – could still be reversed – by the singular will that is the mother. How I doubted I had ever existed. How the Bushmen of the Kalahari say: we are the Dreamer’s Dream. 

     I put the phone down and darted away from it. I thought, even if I have to swim the East River to Brooklyn, I’m getting out of here alive. 

     Many people, it turns out, believe that we are protected, that someone or something is looking over us, until it is time for us to go – the celestial equivalent of armed marshals. I wonder did these beings vanish on the day he died, hoiked into the air by a faulty wire? What about all those people who died that day not more than a few hundred metres, vertically, from where I stood, although so very far away – did their guardians conspire to desert them enmasse? Or did the ordinariness of the morning (I will never trust ordinariness again) fool these celestial beings, should they exist, into complacency?

     On the flight home to London the crew are brusque. Watching in-flight entertainment feels wrong, and I notice I am not the only passenger who sits stony-faced with the flightmap on my personalised screen: Groundspeed, Outside temperature, Distance travelled, Distance to destination. It will take some days before the symptoms of an illness triggered by what I have witnessed that day in lower Manhattan set in: insomnia, inability to eat, vomiting, unpredictable spasms of anger, paranoia.

     We skirt the coast of Nova Scotia. But this time I don’t pay attention. I have been trapped in North America for I’m not quite sure how many days and I only want to get home to England and to Europe, to put the smoking garrison of Manhattan behind me. 

      I can’t help but wonder, how much time do I have left? How many years before the inflight marshals leave my side? 


The Far Field


He stands at the end of the Neck, the ignition turned off. Slowly, his headlights dim, leaving him in darkness. 

     On May 22 in the year 2000 – thirty-two years from now – a wire will break and he will come crashing to the ground. He will die at only 58. 

     Is there a second when his glider might, after all, snag and updraft and fly? In the moment after the winch breaks, the one before he is dropped with a crash onto the tarmac will he think: how I want to live! Will I live? Or no, there will not be time to think anything at all as the ground rushes toward him.

     A week before his trip along Digby Neck he discovers Roethke’s The Far Field, which the poet completed just before his death in 1963. In the title poem Roethke describes a journey along a peninsula road as thin and itinerant as the Neck. The journey is not an ordinary one, though; it points to some sort of reckoning, to an endgame. It ends with the car hopelessly stuck in a sand rut where it stalls, its headlights fading into the night.

     The tide is charging in; soon this place will be more water than land. The edge of night is on the sky. He jumps into the truck. He will get gas, food, water along the way. He will drive until he becomes the poem, and the poem becomes his life, until the poem delivers him to his answer:


The pure serene of memory in one man, –

A ripple widening from a single stone

Winding around the waters of the world.





This essay first appeared on The Writers Hub.