Sunday, July 08, 2007

Swimming With My Brother

When we were young boys, my brother and I swam in the surf off Montauk Point.

We spent hours leaning into the strong waves, ducking under as the swirling foam crashed onto the beach, and pulling ourselves back to our feet, only to plunge into the icy water again and swim a few yards before another wave slammed into us and we'd stagger back to shore.

Those were days when it felt like we were swimming inside one of Childe Hassam's sparkling seascapes. The sky was the brilliant blue of childhood, the sea endless and rich with possibilities, and the shore a starting point on which to launch our dreams.

Day after day on those family vacations we sent our dreams sailing out past the lighthouse at Montauk Point, all the way across the wide Atlantic to Spain... and further... never knowing which dreams might reach the other shore and come true and which might evaporate like the mist rising off the sea on a foggy morning.

We swam side-by-side year after year, and we continued swimming together long after our childhood ended and we entered adulthood and our family stopped making our annual summer drive east from northern New Jersey to the end of Long Island.

By then Montauk had changed from a sleepy fishing village to a glitzy town and wharf where tourists could dine in luxury overlooking the harbor or wander through expensive shops, and we had changed, too, each of us setting off on our own journeys.

Yet we continued to swim together... in a sea of words... as we made our way into publishing, working at different houses over the years, and then into journalism, and, finally, into the sea of our own writing.

While I fell in love with stories and books for children, my brother discovered haiku poetry, and some of his poems now appear in a hand-crafted book of his own making called Peace and War: A Collection of Haiku from Israel by Rick Black.

It was in Israel, where my brother worked as a journalist, that he found himself first confronted with these startling images of peace and war. He couldn't write about the ironic juxtaposition of these images in his journalistic reports. But haiku enabled him to capture that sense of irony in surprising ways.

Here are a few samples:
a bumper sticker
by the war memorial
"a time to love..."
just an olive tree
and a peeling mural are left
yitzhak rabin square
off to lebanon
air force cadet absorbed in
Love's Labor's Lost
just buried soldier--
too soon for his mother to
notice the crocus
last clouds--
if only the violence would
drift away, too
In this book are my brother's hopes and dreams for peace in a land filled with images of war. The haiku are riveting, crystal-like in their sharpness, emotionally arresting in their clarity of overlapping images of war and peace in a land so well-known for its messages of hope.

In the book's Afterward, poet (and friend) Kwame Dawes writes that "to see this world, to truly engage this world, the poet has to maintain a dual vision."

Somehow the poems reveal the "contradiction in a land that is at once beautiful and startlingly ugly," Dawes notes, "a world that achieves peacefulness even while war is constantly present."

"There is a plea for hope in the final verse...," Dawes concludes. "In many ways, it will become for you, as it has for me, a deeply felt prayer."

It's been years since I swam with my brother off Montauk Point. Yet holding his book in my hands, I can taste the sea again and see his words rising off the page like early morning mist and hear in his voice the call of gulls and the sound of the foghorn.

His poems contain the feelings that surge within one's heart on touching the sea or, really, any part of the world's mystery. And reading through these poems, it feels as if we're swimming once more off the coast of our childhood, each poem a reminder of the dreams and prayers that we shared years ago... and still share today.

If you'd like to learn more about Peace and War or Rick Black's work as a book artist, visit his website:

And if you'd like to make your own book, here are a few book-artists who share their thoughts:

And here are a few places where you can attend classes and discover the pleasure of book-making:

The New York's Center for Book Arts at
The San Francisco Center for the Book at
BookWorks Studio, Asheville, NC at

If you'd like to try writing haiku, you might check out these resources:

1 comment:

Jack said...

A nice piece to reflect on this Sunday morning. I flew from California to my Niece's wedding held on Montauk Pt. beach last week. I grew up on Long Island but never got out past Jones beach in those days. After an all-night wedding party we went swimming in the ocean at six A.M. Great stuff. Gatsby probably wouldn't recognize the nearby Hamptons today. Nice haiku by your brother. There's probably a haiku or two I'll work on to enrich my visit back to L.I.