Barnegat Cottage 1933
from House by the Sea
by Penny Harter

To return to the house by the sea.
Perhaps it is the hollow between dunes,
harsh with beach-grass, hot and still
in the sun where I lie under the sky.
Or it is the cottage, with a sheet
out the attic window flapping a message—
come home, supper. Rough wooden slats
up dunes to the porch, the cottage
on stilts, underneath—cold, dark, sand,
poison ivy and maybe lizards.
The cottage with holes in the attic floor
under my bed….and one directly over
the bathroom (Oh what fun!) . . .

~ ~ ~

The White Whale.
The Whiteness of the Whale—
for me, jellyfish.
What’s the skeleton of the sea?
Bones! Davy Jones!
And the flesh? Jellyfish.
Tentacled mass, false flower
red and pulpy, coming my way
over the brown waves.

Get a stick, lift him out,
watch him slither off, splat
on the sand. Children gather—
shall we squash him? Throw stones?
No, scoop him up in a pail
throw him on the dry hot rocks.
He will not hurt us there.
He will die. . . .

~ ~ ~

By the sea
a little train runs
on little rust rails,
each car a pony cart,
up and down the yellow sand,
and I ride into parasols
twirled like merry-go-rounds
by ladies in long dresses
with old wicker baskets
of fruit and sandwiches.
They spread white damask cloths.
And I sing as I enter the postcard.

Copper water shines
under blue enamel sky.
Sailboats bob on the horizon.
A little train runs
on little rust rails,
and I am the child in the third car,
the one in white sunbonnet,
and waving her left hand.

SOURCE: These are sections of a multi-paged poem,”House by the Sea,” the title poem of my very first book, published by Bill Higginson’s From Here Press back in 1975. (Bill and I later married, and he died in 2008).

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: The beach cottage at Barnegat Light, Long Beach Island, New Jersey, before I was born.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: All the years of my childhood vacations, until maybe junior high age, were spent at the family cottage at Barnegat Light, Long Beach Island, New Jersey. The cottage was owned by my mother’s great-aunt and uncle, and every year the families would get together there. So many memories! And the third section, which I integrated into the series to end it, reflects memories of the “little beach train” at Point Pleasant, New Jersey, at, I think, Jenkinson’s Beach. I’m not sure whether it still runs.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Penny Harter’s recent books include The Resonance Around Us (2013); One Bowl ( 2012); and Recycling Starlight (2010). A featured reader at both the first (1985) and the 2010 Dodge Poetry Festivals, she has won three fellowships from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts; the Mary Carolyn Davies Award from the Poetry Society of America; and two residencies from VCCA ( January 2011; March 2015).