salisbury ma
Riders to the Sea
by Richard L. Levesque

We arrive at the beach
post sunset, after the storm
rolls out into the Atlantic.
The asphalt
has a wet sheen,
almost like a black mirror.

Cigarette butts float
in deep puddles
that reflect neon signs.

At a nearby bar,
a cover band
is trying to be ZZ Top.
I fumble quarters
into an ancient
parking meter.
My friend calls
her son,
checking in.

Sneakers and sandals
come off,
pants are rolled up.
And we walk
on damp sand
behind the old Pavilion building.
The floodlights there
reveal an angry, churning sea
high above wooden pillars.
Against the night sky,
rolling waves rise
and slam against the shoreline.

My friend and I gasp together
and, in that moment,
I don’t think about why I’m there.

I don’t think about
my mother’s diagnosis
or my family’s denial.

I only think about music–
Anna Calvi’s
“Rider to the Sea.”

The instrumental
swells and breaks
just like the waves in front of us.

It’s all feedback
and noise,
then it is silent, calming.

I stare at the waves,
the music in my head
tearing emotion from my heart.

I have never seen
the ocean
in this context before.

we whisper
before walking away.

I tell my friend
my mother probably
has a year.

She predicts
I will be back home
before then.

(It is a prophecy
that comes true
in six months.)

We don’t dwell on this,
but continue up the beach instead,
putting the storm at our backs.

PHOTO: Salisbury Beach, Massachusetts (2010) by 6SN7.


NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: In 2013, my mother was diagnosed with small cell lung cancer and I went back to my hometown in Massachusetts to assess the situation. Things were not looking good and it was starting to get overwhelming. One night, just to get away for a minute, I asked a friend to take me to Salisbury Beach. A storm had just blown out to sea and the surf was breathtaking. I’d been going to that spot ever since I was a kid, but never had that kind of reaction before. The memory has haunted me in a good way ever since. Because of it, I can usually find the one good memory in just about any situation these days.

PHOTO: The author at the Blue Ocean Event Center (formerly the Pavilion) on Salisbury Beach, Massachusetts (Sept. 11, 2022).

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Richard L. Levesque is a poet who lives in Indianapolis, Indiana, with his wife Lorrie. His previous chapbooks are Bone-Break Psychobilly Stew and Fetal Graceland. In his spare time, he enjoys tinkering with computers and watching roller derby.