Great writers and poets create images that take up permanent residence in your mind to which one returns from time to time to savor again the experience, to feel the emotional or intellectual thrill the passage caused. Back in the early-’70s, I attended a poetry reading by Richard C. Raymond, a true gentleman, thoughtful, profound, and gracious. Unfortunately, he died in 1980. Neither a poet nor a frequent reader of poetry, I have no idea if he ever received the recognition he deserved.
One poem he read that evening has lingered with me for over thirty years, and I can still see him standing there, weaving a web into which I willingly allowed myself to enter. His mother had always loved the ocean, and she asked that when she died she be cremated and her ashes thrown upon the rocky shoreline where they lived. Like most of us, I suppose, Richard had thought that when one was cremated, the urn contained nothing but ashes – he never expected to see bits of bone in the urn when he opened it.
This poem is his tribute to his mother.
“A Moment of Bells”
The morning being fair–we left our pleasant
Harbor, in pursuit of our desired port.
Of all that floored and beamed my house,
A few and scanty handfuls left;
Of so much love, mere fragments
As pitted and pocked as bleaching coral,
And feathery light.
Enclosed, when born, in a caul,
She had no fear of drowning,
and in her blood the ghosts of clippers
Pitched their spars to the hungry Horn;
And so she prayed, trapped inland,
That she return to the sea
And not lie still in the smothering ground,
To go from her haven here
On a tide in spring.
The little I had I brought
To the plunging perch of rock
Where she, in the days of her sorrowless summer,
Dove from the lighthouse steps
To idle with gulls
Among the coveys of yawl and sloop,
Or match the strength of her mastering grace
With oceans beyond the wave-breaking wall,
While glory streaked her edge of sky
And the gun on the Parapet Green
Boomed down at the red-sailed sun.
I opened the hands that held
Her residue of ash
And she became, at the end of her death,
A moment of bells
To drums and winds of the sea she loved
As bits of her fire-scored bone
Rang on the rock in the harbor’s mouth,
And over the reaching seaweed
Sang in a spray of waves.
With deepest appreciation to his niece, Gwyneth Walker, and especially his widow, Laura Raymond, for their kind permission.