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August at the Jersey Shore
by Mary Jo Balistreri


To sit at the shore before the sun opens its eye, to listen to the ocean breathe in,
then out, in, then out, a few birds on the tide line—sky swirls a slower but complementary
rhythm of pale-hued scarves, seductive with undulant curves, concealing, revealing. A small glow rises at sea’s edge, painting the horizon tangerine, rose, the palest blue, this time set
aside for dreamers, seekers, and lovers of cinnamon sand.


Coffee and fresh-made doughnuts ribbon tangy air.
           Lifeguards shuffle through sand, first aid kits
slung over muscled shoulders. Climbing into their aeries,
           the bronzed bodies become a magnet for bikinied girls
who parade like fashion show models. Families wake to the clang
           of trash trucks and barking dogs, bikes bumping
the warm wood of the boardwalk.


Sun hats and shades emerge from white A-frames.
           Beach towels and chairs claim a spot,
coolers plunked beside them. Wiggly children hop up and down,
           want only water as mothers apply sunscreen.


piercing whistles
zinging Frisbees
swish of boogie boards
swoosh and boom of waves
whip of kites
pop of beer
thud of volleyball
skirl of gulls
squall of wind
crunch of wrappers
crinkle of cellophane
blur of movement


Inside, we watch sun inch toward late afternoon. Granddaughters stretch out, lulled
asleep by songs of wind and water drifting through open windows.
One daughter cleans strawberries at the sink, another edits her manuscript.
Peace is another presence .
I browse through an old New Yorker, put my legs up, drink a diet Sprite. Piles of books
beckon. I set the magazine aside, and choose The Glassblower of Murano.


crush of tourists
                      waves of people threading in out
           past the music pier
                                 Jesus sign holders
                                            roller coaster dodge cars
                                                       high-pitched squeals
           girls in line for henna tattoos toddlers
on Dads’ shoulders eager for Kohr’s ice cream full
                                                                  moon huge and hanging
                                                                                        hundreds of kites
                                                                             flashes of neon in the night sky


           saxes wail against the rail
                      mics amplify voices of young hopefuls and old guys
                                 sing barbershop harmonies as we start back home
                                            Is it the nightly ritual of promenade or the cool salt air
                                                       the smells of caramel corn or pizza
                                                                  that give us such a head-rush?
                                                                             what about the guys, one granddaughter says
                                                                                        and shopping, says the other
                                 Gulls continue to wheel and swerve over a sea of black starlight


In our nightgowns and robes we sprawl on the floor, the sofa, stay up late,
make hot chocolate, choose favorite flavors of salt-water taffy, chew
on juicy impromptus of who’s going with who, the mulligan stew
of romance, marriage, of our carefree milieu here at the shore.

It’s always the same, this trip to Ocean City, where every August
with hair of silver and gold flying in the wind, we float
in our element, become as we must, mermaids cresting the waves.


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