Orginally published on doorcountypulse.com>>
Released at Thanksgiving, 8142 Review Vol. 2 – the Peninsula Pulse’s literary magazine – contains the 37 best pieces of fiction, nonfiction, poetry and photography out of the 686 submissions received for the 2022 Hal Prize.
The submitting writers, poets and photographers are of all ages and from all over the United States, such as nonfiction winner Brandon Lewis. He’s a Milwaukee native who now lives in New York City but frequents Door County and stays in his family’s cabin, which his great-grandfather built.
We’ve included an excerpt from his winning story below.
“By This Shore”
by BRANDON LEWIS
First, find a storm.
Preferably a summer storm over a brisk lake, shrouded in fog. Preferably naked and alone.
You will need a single cormorant to bob beside you. Spot the dark bird rolling twenty feet away, occasionally diving for fish. The cormorant knows you can’t compete, you with your rubbery land-bound limbs.
When it thunders, don’t flee. Don’t strain your neck to see the jag of lightning that will be gone. Dip your ears underwater to hear the rumble. Adjust to rain soaking your eyes. Once numb to the cold, you’re ready to swim deeper.
Now the cormorant bobs ten feet away. There is nothing fateful in this. You will never know whether the bird is stranded from its gulp of cormorants, has a neurological glitch that makes it fond of humans, or has looked you over. It’s just there, wearing the elements a little better.
Don’t be jealous of its little birdy life, its vivid jot apart from the grief of your body and its chronic ache. Don’t be alarmed if in this transcendent moment, a children’s song washes away all sense of the high-minded adult world. Rubber ducky, you’re the one, you make bath time so much fun, rubber ducky I’m awfully fond of you…
Now look down: your fingers are terribly white. Before the numbness feels good, drift in.
Notice, as you stagger ashore, a small rock on the sandy bottom. Pick it up. Look closer at its rippled limestone, which is in fact a concretion of a coral dating 385 million years ago to an age when this land comprised a vast, shallow sea. The last time coral reefs collapsed, they took 200,000 years to return. Drop it, and shake your cold limbs on the sand.
How could you ever own this place?
A vestige of Roman law, the first ten feet of shore is a “tideland” owned by none. You could hike the 4,530 miles of Great Lake coastline barefoot, barring a fence here and a sewage plant there.
That it’s a temporal zone is both its joy and, more subtly, our grief. Across its vast length from Chicago to Canada, Lake Michigan morphs in 30-year cycles. Water levels rise for a decade or so, slow, sweeping out not only every grain of sand, but also sand reed, thistle, wooden piers, and the aspen tree that falls from the edge of our wooded berm, the rope I tie between it and a secure cedar be damned. Gradually retreating, the water leaves behind a dazzling golden field. Then again comes the flood.
All the while, miscellaneous human crap never ceases to wash ashore.
It’s a pre-pandemic morning, the sun at a 30-degree angle over the water, and cedar pervades the air after yesterday’s rain. I walk the beach collecting bits of spent firecracker cartridges, bottle caps, tampon applicators, and mangled foil balloons left at the edge of high tide. I carry away this waste and poison, passing over driftwood, a bass with eyes plucked by gulls, and what I call beach turds: fibrous roots, crushed shells, and seaweed rolled and rolled by waves until they assume the shape of a jumbo egg. Each step gives a dry and squelchy sound, a thousand-grained tear.
What I cannot rid: invisible pharmaceuticals, farm runoff, and the forever chemicals and neurotoxins that leach from industry. This is also another reason to shower.
If like me you have been waylaid by long-Covid, the first thing to do is commandeer your daughter’s giant unicorn floaty. Then, jump on.
Where once each morning I swam the breast stroke in the numbing deep, now Adela pulls me by the arm, striding sidelong against the waves. The spray makes her pause every three or four steps. She takes on the task nobly, while a neighbor sits up from his beach towel, interrupting his sunbath to lean on one arm and chuckle. Soon I cave in to the comedy. I let the waves beach me. Even though I’m motionless, the waves keep crashing. I lie there, at the cusp of delight and terror.
I am the ridiculous man hiding his inabilities here and displaying them there.
And yet I can’t top the Frenchman Jean Nicolet who lands just miles from here in 1634, believing he’s en route to China, thus his exquisite Chinese robe. He stands in his boat—never an impressing sight. On the red banks, natives watch him approach, firing his musket in the air for no reason.
Sandcastles are less comedic and more heroic-tragic. I scoop the moat with my hand while Adela builds the towers and Rowan—smack in the prime of his toddler-destroy phase—attempts to lay siege. We fend him off, managing to bejewel the castle: zebra mussel shells, pine needles, sea glass, and to top it off, one gull feather for a flag. These are the good times.
But maybe Adela feels it, that I don’t want her to remember this or that. The moments I weaken. Empty-handed in the shade, I refuse the very idea of a beach-book. Dada sleepy, Rowan says, then pours sand on my shoulder as if kindly offering crumbs of a blanket.
No matter how wide the flicker of joy pries my heart, the setting remains a beach with all its connotations, not a place where things come to die. Though it is that, too. Beaches offer weather and elements to replace our internal weather and elements. And what do kids offer, if not an odd sort of credit, an obligation to live out more years? No, shuddering is for a return at night, sober or with a joint in hand. The moon traces the water, and its poetic illusion follows me slow.
Still midday, Adela and I poke at the sand. Do you know what’s worse than dying? she asks me. When you feel dying.
But soon all she wants is for me to time how fast she runs to the end of the bright beach. You’re faster on wet sand, I tell her, then begin an excited count until she can no longer hear my voice. I become silent and love silently. From afar I must look nearly invisible, my skin and hair blending with the sand.
Invisible: this is what, by being himself, Rilke promised to help Earth become.
Want to read more? Have a lover of literature in your life? Visit doorcountypulse.com/shop to purchase the first and second volumes of 8142 Review. By purchasing the books, you support the literature arts in the community, the continuation of the Hal Prize and 8142 Review.