On Vay Cay

July 28, 2012

Vay Cay, formed inside the tides, is a reef
you can wade out to, like, a hundred yards knee deep
in turquoise water, find a hammock strung
between two palm trees, sit and watch the tides
push, what they call sea peonies, back to land.
Ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes and groves,
I tell the wife. All those poses the peonies make
could be the effect of, you know,
a photo-tropism, the kind of poiesis
a false god might make to propitiate
the one true god…Vay Cay, she says. Vay Cay.

How the sun looks over the ocean.
The tiki bar features a Tequila Mockingbird.
I have a beach book and a slight red glow.

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10 Responses to “On Vay Cay”

  1. John Stevens Says:

    What a delightful scene: I can see the shallow turquoise water, feel the sun’s warmth. You have captured the essence of our archetypal vacation in lovely, leisurely lines.
    I think the wife is right Jim: enjoy your vaycay: ease up on the intellectual challenge, take the prescribed tequila and slightly exceed the recommended dose …

  2. extrasimile Says:

    John, something I have learned in this life. The wife is always right.

  3. Tom D'Evelyn Says:

    Well, in letting the wife get the last word, the poet slips into a more subtle inquiry: how the sun looks….
    We used to call that Romantic irony, back in the day when the Romantics were out of favor. Another rebellious touch, the use of “the wife”– perhaps her voice has an aggrieved edge to it! Oh well, the old fella is having a ball.

  4. Thomas Davis Says:

    A delightful poem, Jim, but, as usual, there are depths and there are depths in it that swirls it alive. Vay Cay, or escape from it all, is
    …formed inside the tides, is a reef
    you can wade out to, like, a hundred yards knee deep
    in turquoise water,
    You can string a hammock between two palm trees, but you are still inside tides on a reef.
    Ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes and groves…
    if I remember correctly, is from The Tempest and is the speech where Prospero renounces his magic powers, a strange reference in a poem about Vay Cay.
    This reference leads to imaginative speculations about sea peonies, though,
    those poses the peonies make
    could be the effect of, you know,
    a photo-tropism, the kind of poiesis
    a false god might make to propitiate
    the one true god…
    to which your wife, replies, altogether properly, Vay Cay, remember that you are not in the tides, but on the reef in a hammock strung between two palms.
    Then, remembering yourself, calming your fervid brain, you think…
    How the sun looks over the ocean.
    The tiki bar features a Tequila Mockingbird.
    I have a beach book and a slight red glow.
    Ah yes, a Tequila Mockingbird and a slight red glow. I suspect both stir up the tides a bit as the tongue mocks with liquid sound the songs of Vay Cay in paradise.

  5. extrasimile Says:

    Yes, Thomas, you’ve completely nailed this one. Prospero’s speech (if you have a few minutes, I recommend rereading the whole thing—Act 5, scene 1—just an astounding piece of writing. I often wonder what it must be like to sit back, as Shakespeare must have done, and think, you know, I wrote this.) Why wouldn’t an especially literary fellow think about the Tempest while on Vay Cay? Why wouldn’t he think about renouncing (or losing) his powers? Why wouldn’t he think about being a false god propitiating ‘the one true god?’ (I am especially pleased with this phrase. It takes a certain amount of courage to write such stuff.)
    Not to worry though. While most of his poem is rather fussy and fustian (a-hem), he does redeem himself—I’d like to think—with the last three lines. ‘I have a beach book and a slight red glow,’ is, well, a step or two up from ‘the one true god’. (I confess, I toyed with adding ‘holy and apostolic’ but, no, I have some restraint.) (or ‘had’).
    Thanks for the birthday greetings. I am still thinking about your thoughts on the abyss.
    Gentle breath of yours my sails/ must fill…

  6. Tom D'Evelyn Says:

    Be sure to read bonnefoys essay on tempest in Shakespeare and the French poet. I think my study of this essay and the play is blocking my reading of this poem. How DOES the sun “look over” the ocean?

  7. extrasimile Says:

    Okay Tom, let me try to address what I think is causing your ‘blockage’ (which you are perhaps too polite to spell out). First of all, let me say that I am a little surprised at the general positive response to this poem. Even my wife likes it (Is she the origin of ‘the wife’? Certainly not.) At best she tolerates what I write, accepts the eccentricity, admits there are more things to heaven and earth than are thought of in her philosophy…but this one she liked.
    Really, this poem was intended as a piece of whimsy, something that would not put the reader into what Thomas Davis calls an abyss. Something you’d read and say, Oh I get it, Vay Cay! Maybe a little appreciative groan.
    Let me write out that first sentence without the line breaks.
    Vay Cay, formed inside the tides, is a reef you can wade out to, like, a hundred yards knee deep in turquoise water, find a hammock strung between two palm trees, sit and watch the tides push, what they call sea peonies, back to land.
    I’d like to think that ‘like’ gives the game away. It is, like, by any standard, one ugly sentence.
    It has something of travel brochure on steroids about it and is supposed to function like that.
    (Vay Cay is a reef that has been formed by the ocean currents. To get to it, you must wade out a hundred yards or so through delightful turquoise water…)
    Next, a line from Shakespeare is quoted. The opening of one of the more complex, beautiful and intense sentences I’ve ever read. Why is this here? I’m not sure I know the answer to this, except to introduce the whole Tempest/ Prospero on an island/ the loss of certain magical powers/ to provide a certain benchmark of what you actually can accomplish with some complex poetry. Maybe it is just me scraping my fingernails on the blackboard.
    Then this sentence: All those poses the peonies make could be the effect of, you know, a photo-tropism, the kind of poiesis a false god might make to propitiate the one true god…
    We have gone from the frying pan into the fire, from some numbing prose via a line quoted from Shakespeare (and maybe I messed up: maybe it should have been misquoted) to some dangerously pretentious theorizing. (Should I have ‘praxis’?)
    The wife has had enough: ‘Vay Cay’, she says. Vay Cay. Now this could have the meaning: chill, dear, we’re on vacation. But Thomas is correct, it could mean ‘remember you are not in the tides, you are on land (and safe?). It could also function as a simple interruption. I don’t want to hear anymore of this stuff…sweetie.
    Then, in this very fractured sonnet, we get the turn and our conclusion.
    How the sun looks over the ocean.
    The tiki bar features a Tequila Mockingbird.
    I have a beach book and a slight red glow.

    It would perhaps be in bad taste for me to say why I think these sentences are so good. But I am happy with them. (Right, the sun can’t see. A tiki bar. A tequila mockingbird. The use of ‘have’: I’ll say no more.) An experiment in dissonance. Thelonious Monk writes a sonnet. All that I could manage.
    It seems, though, that I did not get out of the abyss.

  8. Tom D'Evelyn Says:

    Whew! The Tempest text explodes the domestic scene for me. Intertextuality can have such unintended consequences. I’m quite aware its my loss!

  9. extrasimile Says:

    Okay. Sorry to be the bore talking too loudly at the end of the bar. It was worthwhile for me to write this out, though. Good way to think it through. I’ll try to get my hands on the Bonnefoy book.

  10. John Stevens Says:

    You are certainly allowed to feel pride in those closing lines, Jim. There’s a delightful sense in them of winding down, letting go … as Prospero did, maybe, and certainly as ‘the wife’ wishes …
    (It’s great to be reminded of the Tempest.)


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