Remembering That Purple Poem

hurivirgaSome years ago,  I published “The Sentinel,” an essay about Florida environmentalist Charles Torrey Simpson and a pair of shells I found washed onto a Texas beach.

The shells, a deep, rich purple, are known in scientific circles as Janthina janthina. Elegant, tiny sea snails, they form great rafts, then float around the world. When Simpson found such a raft in the Florida Keys, he chronicled his experience, and through his notebook entry I was able to identify my own bits of purple.

Soon after I posted about Simpson, one of my readers offered a request.  Her love of all things purple had been stirred by the piece, and she wanted a “purple poem.”  At the time, I didn’t think of myself as a poet, and demurred. As it turned out, she did think of me as a poet, and was convinced  I could produce some verse for her.

We went back and forth, teasing one another about it for days, until she finally became insistent. “Please do give me that poem,” she said. “I know it’s in there, and I can’t wait till you spit it out.” Wanting to be polite, I said, “The poem, she is a-percolating. Or should I say, “a-purple-ating”?

When I heard nothing more, I assumed our discussion had ended. Then, this note arrived:

Ahoy Shore,
Can you see my right foot a-tappin’?
Bet you know why.
I’ll give you a hint. It’s small and shiny and purple and yearns to be heard (or read). I cannot wait to hear its

I felt like an over-scheduled fresco artist with the Medici breathing down my neck. I tried to put her off, saying:

“My dear ~ you can’t force the creative process. Poems have to come in their own good time.
However: in the spirit of things, I can report that the phrase “amethyst breezes” is on the clipboard. Nice, huh? And, just for you, a little ditty to tide you over, like an apple before dinner.
“There once was a small purple shell
that traveled the ocean’s deep swell.
It floated and blew
across seas green and blue,
in a hurry its story to tell.”

And that, it seemed, was that. On the other hand, while my friend stopped talking about the poem, I didn’t stop thinking about it. The phrase “amethyst breezes” brought to mind Georgia O’Keefe and her vibrant colors. I began pondering her relationship with Steiglitz, intrigued by the way “color” and “black and white” related to one another. I started fiddling a bit with the poem.

But Hurricane Dolly came along, threatening the Texas coast with storm surge. I forgot the poem through all the surges yet to come — Gustav, Rita and Ike — until one day, looking at photographs of hurricane destruction, and reminded again of what happens when a hurricane coats the world with layers of ghastly gray mud, I began to compare the vibrant colors of the natural world with the monochromatic tones of a storm.

One phrase came, then another, until at last the poem was complete. No longer a generic “purple poem,” it had become a celebration of color in the midst of a gray and dingy world.

Storm Surges
Left to their own devices,
oceans sigh away the sunset,
strip horizons bare
and leave their swells to mutter
beneath the bruising dark.
Fearful, the frozen moon
ascends the ratlines of the stars,
and disappears from view.
Scaled by the wind’s cold knife
clouds release their torrents across the flying spume —
bits of stinging darkness
tumbling to the sea.
Bereft of fuchsias,
emptied of limes,
heaven’s palette drips gunmetal,
gray —
smeared by unwashed foam
and streaks of mud-tinged spray.
Beaneath the surging water
earth herself dissolves away,
flowing into silence
to dream a dancer’s dream —
cerulean tangos beneath tangerine clouds,
amethyst breezes,
and goldenrod skies.

Comments always are welcome.
This re-publication is for the Weather Underground friend who was eager for her own poem. On April 3, Weather Underground blogs will be closed, and a remarkable community will scatter, with good memories, and a good bit of nostalgia.

95 thoughts on “Remembering That Purple Poem

  1. Absolutely lovely shells! Funny that I was the first to comment on that post you link to! I still think they are lovely shells.

    I suppose the “problem” with writing a poem about the sea is the depth. There is as much to say and not to say as there is as much to see and not to be seen.

    I’m still terrified of deep water, but I’ve always enjoyed poems and stories about the sea. Thanks for this.

    1. It’s certainly counter-intuitive that deep water is safest for a sailor. More than a few boats I know have landed on the rocks or the beach along the Texas coast because of clinging to the shore. I can’t even count the number who’ve run aground because of skinny water: myself included.

      On the other hand, cruising friends who were anchored off Phuket during the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami saved themselves by getting to deep water before being caught by the waves, and deep water gives you room to navigate in a storm.

      You’re right about the relationship of surface to depth, though. Whether a poem, a person, or an ocean, it’s always worth considering. The good news is that the ocean’s willing to throw up some gifts from its depths onto the beach. It’s what makes beachcombing so much fun. You never know what you’ll find.

  2. Really nice poem Linda. Amethyst breezes caught my eye, and would in life…but, those final three lines make me want to weigh anchor and sail away… Beautiful imagery.

    1. Thanks, Gary. Given the weekend we had, a bit of colorful imagery was fun to work with. I’m glad you enjoyed it. There are several reasons for wanting to sail away these days, but the simple beauty of life on the water is one of the best.

  3. Beautiful . . . The poem creates a wonderful visual picture of the sea during a storm. I enjoyed reading about the development process for this poem.

    1. Especially when the “process” occurs over time, I think it can be an interesting side note. Contrary to some peoples’ assumptions, poems don’t just drop from the heavens, any more than a nice pie just shows up on the table. Some come more easily than others, but there’s always a process. I’m glad you enjoyed reading about it here.

      And there is something compelling about a good storm. There’s always electricity in the air ahead of one: part trepidation, but part anticipation, too.

    1. I like the limerick, too. They’re such fun to read and write; the lilting rhythm always makes me smile.

      Now and then, I refer to my Muse lingering in places like Poughkeepsie. There’s nothing at all wrong with Poughkeepsie, but it’s not Paris. Sometimes, that can be an advantage. And I’m glad you enjoyed the poem.

  4. Amethyst breezes sounds right nice when I say the words aloud. I think the poem is lovely and profound. I think your days of sailing and of working near the sea gives you an extra edge to write about the water and what can be found on the shore. I can well understand how one needs to be in the right frame of mind. I’m not a writer but often I can’t get it together just to get a blog post going.

    1. Poetry’s made for speaking aloud. At least, the poetry I prefer usually is. A change came along some time back, and the arrangement of words on the page became the thing, but that can be just a little too cutesie for me. I like the sound of words — the way they sometimes start galloping off on their own, like a fine horse.

      I do love the water, that’s for sure. I’ve been a little prejudiced about lakes, preferring the oceans and bays, but I’m told the Great Lakes would cure me of that. Maybe one day I’ll have a chance to test the theory.

  5. I think I like purple poetry much better than purple prose. That last little bit:

    “cerulean tangos beneath tangerine clouds,
    amethyst breezes,
    and goldenrod skies.”

    is my favorite. Tangerine is just the right name for that sunset on the clouds color. Oh, and echoes of Duke Ellington,

    This one’s a real keeper.

    1. Believe me, I played around with some post titles that edged toward including the phrase “purple prose,” but it was only play, and I left the phrase where it belonged: in the reject pile.

      You’ve just reminded me that one of the songs my dad and I often danced to was “Deep Purple”. When I got a little older and was playing clarinet with the city band, we did an Ellington-like arrangement at a summer concert. There’s nothing like a small town summer concert, with plenty of lemonade and blankets on the ground in front of the bandstand. Good times.

      The secret about that photo is that the bright tangerine in the lower right actually is virga just before sunset: rain falling, but not reaching the ground. If you look at the larger version, you can almost see the rain streaks near the center.

  6. Oh, those are lovely shells. And this is a lovely poem. I love the way you used the contrast of the gray and darkness of the storm to make the colors really sail in the verse. Good stuff, Linda!

    1. Thanks, Gary. I think all these years of reading your blog has sensitized me to the power of color. Capturing it in words can be iffy, but it’s certainly worth the effort. I thought about that the other day when you showed the various stages of your painting. Poetry or painting, it never happens all at once. Sometimes, it’s fun (and instructive) to see the process.

    1. Thanks for the wonderful compliment, SOL. I have this sudden image of a big, old tangerine being squeezed so hard that it’s dripping — but each drop of juice is a word!

  7. A beautiful poem. The line that stood out to me was “flowing into silence”. There is a lot of silence with a hurricane. The waiting for it to arrive, the eye passing over and the next day looking at the aftermath.

    1. My most vivid memory of Hurricane Ike isn’t of the wind, or the evaculation, or the mud, or the blue tarps. It’s the silence that came afterward: no birds, no insects, no fish, no scurrying animals. I still remember the vast relief I felt one night when, sitting here with the windows open, I heard a fish jump. I knew then that the world was healing itself.

  8. It is sad to hear the Weather Underground community is coming to an end. It is one of the hazards of virtual community that they are difficult to rebuild once they are destroyed.

    1. That’s true. Reconstructing the past isn’t only difficult, it’s impossible. On the other hand, continuity’s possible. It’s been interesting to see how people are sorting themselves into new communities: on Flickr, on Disqus, and so on. But nostalgia? Oh, my. My first blog post ever was on Weather Underground. I wrote about pecan pie.

      And I learned a lot about writing on the internet: trolls, sock puppets, astro-turfing, anonymity. Never mind grammar and spelling. Those were some of the important first lessons I had to learn.

  9. The amethyst is excellent, but I really love this
    “Beaneath the surging water
    earth herself dissolves away,
    flowing into silence”
    Being outdoors has fermented and seasoned you enough to produce such ideas and images as this. Lovely.
    (What closing? It’s like the frontier is over…civilization crowds in. Business takes over every nook and cranny…where’s the next hideout, that hidden canyon …)

    1. You know me. I hardly pay attention. I didn’t know that IBM bought out WU/TWC in 2015. If I’d known, I wouldn’t have been so surprised by the announcement. Here’s a short article on IBM’s rationale. The good news is that Jeff Masters’ blog will remain. I’d hate to go through hurricane season without it.

      Beyond that, I’d forgotten that I have some of my earliest WU blogs in my files. At one point, I deleted all of my posts there, but I kept some — including my second entry, which was my first attempt at real writing: November, 2007. It’s the seed that grew into so much that came after — including my interest in the Evangeline story. The great irony is that I might not have seen those posts for years, had WU not closed. Who can explain the workings of the universe?

  10. How lovely to have a friend who inspires you to get out of your comfort zone … and keeps nudging you until you do! You’ve “purple-ated” a gorgeous poem, Linda — so many phrases to love, especially “amethyst breezes,” “cerulean tangos,” “tangerine clouds,” and “goldenrod skies.” And I happen to love your limerick as well — though I’m glad your friend refused to accept that initial offering!

    I went back and looked at your essay — I didn’t realize there was a town in Illinois called Tiskilwa, so I Googled it. Who knew this tiny community is so close to Peoria? Thanks for educating me in such an interesting way!

    1. Of course you love the limerick — you’re Irish!

      The poem’s a perfect example of what can happen when you let a poem “age.” It was far less polished at first, and I did more revising before publishing it this time. But regardless of its quality, it’s part of my history in a unique way, and I cherish it for that.

      Are you in Peoria? Despite decades of hearing jokes about "will it play in Peoria?" I've never known anyone who lived there. If central Illinois is as nice as central Iowa, it must be a great place to live. I enjoyed this, from the Tiskilwa Wiki page: “By 1976, the time it used to take a farmer to reach downtown Tiskilwa would put him in downtown Peoria. And maybe back home.” That is close!

    1. I can’t remember seeing such a vibrant green in any other sea creature. The article was interesting. I was especially tickled to learn about the “surprising habits of the pea crab – such as how they seem to ‘tickle’ a mussel for hours on end to get it to open its shell!” I went looking to see if I could find a photo of this enterprising crab, and I did. Doesn’t she look guilty?

    1. That emergence of color after the storm is one of the best experiences in the world — unless, of course, it’s the emergence of spring color after a long and drab winter, or a blue sky after weeks of fog and gray sky. We’re made for color, don’t you think?

  11. “… the simple beauty of life on the water…” Funny, that’s what I was just thinking while reading… Just how much time you spend there, you with your Artist’s Eye observing; archiving experience, emotion, light and colour. To save, ruminate and eventually reveal: a lustrous pearl upon her Mother’s nacre’d breast.

    1. That’s a lovely description of the process, Deb. I’m not sure about “artist’s eye,” though. I think it’s probably just a case of a human eye: attentive to the world rather than to a screen.

      It occurred to me, too, that the pearl takes form as a way of protecting the oyster from irritants. With too much ease, too much light and color, perhaps nothing would be produced. It’s an interesting thought: that a little pushback from the world might be needed for creativity to thrive. Sometimes, a little toughening up may be necessary.

  12. So fun with a poem exchange or challenge, even if it ended abruptly. And what it all leaded up to is remarkable. What really resonates with me is the stanza “Scaled by the wind’s cold knife
    clouds release their torrents across the flying spume”. Beautiful.

    1. It was great fun, Otto. As for the description of the wind as a scaling knife, it certainly suggests that anything can be fodder for poetry: even hours spent at the fish-cleaning table. I’m glad you like the metaphor. I certainly do — even more than the luscious colors.

  13. I’m so glad the purple poem didn’t leave you. I know that gun metal gray dripping all too well. You capture that energy perfectly. Don’t you think “Amethyst Breezes” would be a grand name for an anthology?

    1. That gun metal gray is ghastly, isn’t it? There’s a certain gray down here that’s only associated with hurricanes, and that often comes with a weak, sickly yellow light. The last time I saw it was several years ago, and that’s just fine by me.

      “Amethyst Breezes” would be a good name for an anthology, but I don’t think it would work for me. It’s too pretty. It sounds more like you!

    1. I hoped, briefly, that the shells might make it up your way, but everything I’ve read describes them as being tropical, so I guess that’s out. They are gorgeous: no question about that. In a little coincidence, the friend who was encouraging me to write her a poem spends a good bit of time around the Outer Banks herself. You’d like her.

  14. I enjoyed reading this yesterday morning after a deeeep sleep from the past month+ of travels. Then the internet dropped to one bar, which is ‘dead’ zone’ for the little burrito computer. All last night, zero internet….

    The little ditty was so much fun to read, and I am glad that your friend continued to nudge that poem out of you! I have a very talented friend who pens such great entertaining stories – a master of the story, yet he says that I am the only person who has ever encouraged him… this reminds me to keep nudging him!

    So now here I am one day later, savoring that purple poem again and thinking how this reminds me of how you expertly wove the waves and the earthquake into a beautiful post last year.

    1. There’s a great difference between a nag and a nudge. I sometimes think of the difference this way: a nag means “do what I want you to do,” and a nudge means “do what you want to do.” The difference is part of the reason people dig their heels in when nagged. If I’d been nagged to produce the poem, I suspect it never would have seen the light of day. So, yes: nudge your friend as much as you like. He’ll appreciate it.

      That weaving — whatever form it takes — is why time can be so important in the creative process. More times than I can count, my writing emerges from a sudden convergence of this and that. It’s great fun, and makes paying attention to everything entirely satisfying.

      1. The last time we visited, I pondered ‘nudging’ him but knew that he knew that it was on my mind.. and most likely he appreciated that I did not nudge… he and his wife are renting while their earthquake-damaged home is being repaired…

    1. Or, at least the process that led to this poem! It’s interesting to me that my “process” for poems and essays is so different. Maybe there’s something in the forms that demands a different approach. Who knows? In any event, I’m glad you enjoyed it. I never read it myself without remembering that famous “Houston Chronicle” photo of Hurricane Ike arriving at Galveston’s seawall. There had to be a lot of (ground-up) shells in that.

  15. Thanks to your friend for energizing your creative process Linda. A beautiful poem once more along with a lively discussion before. The cloud photo is stunning as well.

    As an aside, I can’t find your post about the milo piles. My copies were washed out. I would love to see the post again. Thanks.

    1. I see virga now and then, but that’s certainly the most beautiful example I’ve seen. I was glad to be able to capture it in a photo, and I’m glad you like the poem I paired it iwth.

      Glad to help out with the photos. Check your email if you haven’t. The flash drive is winging its way to you.

  16. To think all those shells form a mat and float around the world, I wouldn’t mind being such a shell. I loved both of these poems and am glad your friend pushed you to write them. It’s always a shame when a blogging community breaks

    1. Weather Underground bloggers were a pretty tight community. Lots of births and deaths and Christmas cards shared: that kind. There were plenty of spats and arguments and instances of going-off-in-a-huff, too: which is only to say, it was a very human kind of place. It always was its best during severe weather. People truly cared for one another.

      The shell mats are wondrous things, really. The closest thing we see here on a regular basis are the mats of sargassum that float in from the Sargasso Sea. It’s not nearly so pretty, but it supports so much life, and it’s quite interesting.

    1. Of course you like the moon image! You have so many wonderful ones yourself — well, both you and Dr. M. Thanks so much for the kind words. It’s good to see you here, because that means things are sorting themselves out in your new digs. Maybe you’ve got your feet up again.

  17. heaven’s palette drips gunmetal, gray

    What a beautiful image. Sometimes, when struggling to find the best words, it seems to me that all the beautiful images and perfect metaphors have been taken already. And, after all, there must be a finite limit to the ways we can describe things like a stormy sky. But then I read this, or something like it, and I am thankful for creative people, who refuse to concede that the limit has yet been reached.

    1. Thanks, Bill. I was rather taken with that image, myself.

      Of course you know as well as I do that some of these things simply “come to us.” How it happens is a bit of a mystery, I suspect it’s a result of that half-conscious — or even unconscious — stirring of the pot that we call “musing.” We can help things along with the questions we ask ourselves (“Ok — it’s a gray sky. What kind of gray?”) but often enough, the harder we work, the less creative the result.

      As for limits on imagery: I’m not sure there are any. That’s part of what makes this all so much fun.

    1. That’s right. WordPress has an option to enable them, or not, and I chose not to . On a different sort of blog — a photography blog, for example — I probably would. But I wanted to encourage comments and discussion, and thought eliminating the button would help with that.

      In any event, thanks for reading, and for liking the post. I always enjoy it when you stop by.

      1. I don’t think many blogs, at least the ones I have been to have choosen not to have the like buttons. Or maybe they didn’t read it clearly, anyhow it does encourage a lot more disscussion. Good thinking !

    1. Thanks, Dina. I’m glad you enjoyed the poem and the photo. The sea surely did help to produce both: the variety it offers up certainly does nurture the soul.

    1. Thanks, Debra. The sky is a never-ending show, isn’t it? I certainly enjoy seeing the colors change from season to season.

      I was thinking about you the other day when there were so many fires in Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. I hope you weren’t affected. I didn’t realize how dry it’s been up there — although a cousin in KCMO said it was snowing today.

      1. The wild fires have been awful. We were not affected by them, other than having a few smoke filled days. The winds that were fueling the fires were unbelievable, 50-70 mph. They are reporting that more than 650,000 acres were burnt in Kansas. The loss of life, homes and animals is devastating. It is so dry, we certainly need the moisture. It was only a light dusting of snow for us today. I would much rather have rain. It’s so deceiving how dry it is, as the wheat fields are so green beautiful. Soon they will be controlled burning in the Flint Hills.

        1. It’s amazing to me that they were burning at the Tallgrass Prairie when I was there, because there had been so much rain, and the conditions were right. They certainly were. I saw a couple of fires lit while I was there, and the smoke, even though thick and visible from where I was, many miles away, was going straight up. I hope you get your rain soon.

  18. Now here is a question….what would have happened if your friend had asked for a piece of purple prose? I love the colour purple, so I feel sad it’s attached to over the top prose. It seems we have Horace to blame for that. ( ? possibly ? based on a quick internet search) ) But since a purple patch can refer to a good, creative, period of time, perhaps I can say your purple poem is a product of a purple patch of mind. It’s lovely. Yesterday was a grey, drizzly day. I chose to wear purple, and matching amethyst earrings. Your poem could have been pinned/patched to my outfit. We would have gone well together.

    1. That’s an interesting question. I’m not sure i would have known how to tackle it, since I don’t think I could over-write, even if I wanted to, and as for that other meaning of purple prose? There’s not a chance I’d give that a try, even in fun.

      What does intrigue me is that I’ve never heard the expression “purple patch.” I don’t even remember Jimi Hendrix-following hippies adding purple patches to clothing, and I know I’ve never heard it as a descriptor for a creative period. The examples cited in the link suggest it might be a Britishism: one of those phrases that never made it across the pond, but which could have made it to NZ and Australia because of your closer connections. Of course, it could be used in literary circles here, but I wouldn’t know anything about that.

      You have reminded me of the poem which gained so much popularity here. My only question is, “Why wait?”

      1. I know the expression “purple patch” (from somewhere) but it’s not one I use or have heard used in NZ. (Though there seem to be a couple of craft/charity shops named Purple Patch) Love the link. I know the poem but didn’t know much about the poet.

  19. I loved the last stanza, as well as the reference to the “gunmetal, gray.” That really names the sky sometimes, although as someone who from time to time tries to paint a storm, well, the colors can be utterly evasive! All the same, I recently went to an art installation in which the artists walked into a series of tornadoes with a video camera at hand. The clashes of brown and gray made me long for some color!

    1. Storm chasing meets art: who would have thought it? The photographers and videographers are doing some fantastic things with storms these days, but I’ve never heard of anyone getting so up-close-and-personal. It would have been an interesting exhibit.

      The sky is so alive I’m not sure any artist — writer, painter, photographer — can capture it. We only can record a moment in time, and use that glimpse to remind us of what we saw. I still can “see” the yellow and gray sky that betokened the arrival of Hurricane Humberto, but to describe it? Impossible: particularly since I never had seen that particular yellow before, and haven’t seen it since.

  20. Glorious. And well worth the wait, Linda.

    That first phrase about devices has been at the forefront of my mind as I skip through Carrie Fisher’s Princess Diarist. She questions, “What devices? How many did I have? Had I had them long? What if what I assumed were devices were, in fact, delusions?”

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed the poem, Anne. And those are interesting questions Fisher poses. It can be fun, and revealing, to take idioms and expressions we use almost unthinkingly, and think of them literally. It can lead to an entirely new way of seeing reality; it sounds as though that might have happened for Fisher.

  21. That is quite a glorious sky, Linda. Of course, no image is the real thing, but I can imagine the feeling of witnessing such. Your poem is a good match or the image is a good match…they are well-matched.

    The last few lines reminded me of this, although certainly two different subjects.

  22. It really was an amazing experience, Steve, because I’d never seen virga colored like that. The tangerine color at the bottom right is colored rain — who knows what Hendrix actually saw that lead to his song?

    I never have heard that Beatles’ song — I don’t remember even seeing the title. It’s pretty amazing that, after all this time, I’m still discovering work that they did. Thanks for linking it — I can see why the poem reminded you of it.

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