The matrix of Poems from the Boatyard is the town of Oyster Bay, where I’ll be in about two weeks, trying to get to the one year anniversary of Think Long Island First, which is selling the book.
I didn’t know it was a matrix at the time. I'm not sure that word was current in any but the most scientific conversations. And there was no rocket science to putting together the collection of poems. It just sort of emerged as I was writing poem after poem after poem...and then realizing themes were emerging, and one of those themes was home and family. Hmmm, I thought, I think I have a chapbook!
I was writing from a search for identity. Living in a foreign culture can do that to you. I was living overseas at the time, and was “home”—i.e., in the United States—for an extended stay. In Connecticut to be exact, where most of my family had relocated. Three of my brothers still lived in Oyster Bay, and I had always made regular visits there previously, for both business and pleasure. It was always a treat. And I was on my way down for another one of those treats. And happened to stop at Oyster Bay's post office first, before arriving at my brother's. And there I discovered the power of place.
A man intercepted me at the mail box. A former neighbor, the father of the man who remains one of my brother’s best friends. I hadn’t seen him since childhood. Vision blurred for a moment. I felt a little dizzy and my brain flipped through categories. Yes, I knew who he was, but who was I?! A child again...I was home! (I swear I heard the “Cheers” theme song begin…”Where everybody knows your name…”)
Ever have one of those moments? Like when someone you knew and loved rises from the dead to reincarnate through someone else? Same build, same type of hat, same gait. No, wait…not the same. Uncanny resemblance…you wait for your heart to slow down, and your center of gravity only returns slowly.
I have gotten a lot of things wrong in my life, and here was another: the concept of home.
Having lived in Europe for some years, returning home prior to this incident meant simply returning to the US. To Connecticut to be exact. To see family and friends, people with whom I had history. Since most of the family had by now migrated up into New England, that was ‘home.’ Most if not all of my adult friends were made in Connecticut. All my friends in France knew me less than a decade. Home is where the heart is, right? Well, yes and no….
Because there he was, this neighborhood father of my brother’s best friend, running into the post office and running into my 5-year-old heart. A man I hadn’t seen in probably 30 years, who called me by my childhood nickname. Provoking an out-of-body experience. This bore investigation.