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The Summer, Beach and August

July-August 2022  Double Issue #301

While Poets Online took some vacation time, poets were submitting to our two different writing prompts. This is our double summer issue.

Summer and the beach was our first call for submissions. In America, it already started with Memorial Day weekend but it officially starts with a solstice which occurs when one of Earth's poles has its maximum tilt toward the Sun. Technically, the June solstice is the exact instant of time when the Sun is directly overhead the Tropic of Cancer. For the Northern Hemisphere, we have maximum tilt so it is summer. In the Southern Hemisphere, it is conversely at minimum tilt and so it is winter. 

I don't think I am alone in associating summer with the beach. I grew up in New Jersey where we go "down the shore" in the summer. I have been to the beach every summer of my life. 

Poets often go to the beach in their poems. There are many. Some love the beach. But not all of the poets.

"Beaches. Why I Don’t Care For Them" says it quite clearly. That poem by Wanda Coleman talks about the associations she has with the beach.

"years of being ashamed/my sometimes
fat, ordinary body. years later shame passed
left a sad aftertaste. mama threatening to beat me if i got
my hair wet. curses as she brushes the sand out, "it's gonna
break it off—it's gonna ruin your scalp."
or the tall blond haired gold/bronze-muscled
lifeguards who played with the little white ones but gawked at us like we were lepers..."

For this summer prompt, we were looking for poems about summer at the beach, but not so much thinking of poems like Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach." They can be good or bad associations with the time and place. They can be poems that are not clearly either. 

In our model poem, "Beachcomber," Stanley Moss recounts two summer beach encounters. One is not good or bad - just odd. The other experience is also odd but I would classify it as amazing.

"Another time, washed up on a Montauk dune,
found a Chianti wine bottle
with a letter in it. I read to myself
a child’s handwriting: “Hello,
let’s make friends. Please call,” she gave her phone number..."

Some poets mixed the two prompts (not surprising) and submitted poems about the beach in August because our second call for submissions was about August. 

The word "august" means respected and impressive, as in "she was in august company." The calendar month was originally named Sextilis in Latin because it was the 6th month in the original ten-month Roman calendar, but it was renamed in honor of Emperor Augustus in 8 BC.

Lawrence Dunbar's poem "In August" is a listing of things he would do in the month.

When August days are hot an’ dry,
When burning copper is the sky,
I‘d rather fish than feast or fly
In airy realms serene and high.

I‘d take a suit not made for looks,
Some easily digested books,
Some flies, some lines, some bait, some hooks,
Then would I seek the bays and brooks...

"Blackberry-Picking" by Seamus Heaney focuses on one August thing and yet the poem ultimately is about this late part of summer when the berries, like summer, is ending. He says "Each year I hoped they'd keep, knew they would not."

Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.

This second call for submissions for our double issue, asked for poems that define August through one thing - an event, a word, a memory.

For half the planet, August is the end of summer, but if you are submitting from the Southern Hemisphere, you might send us a poem about August winter.

For more on all our prompts and other things poetic, check out the Poets Online blog.


Content because my brain has no content.
A rare state of mind that occurs more easily
on this beach as the sun sets behind me.
The lifeguards dragged their stand back.
The families all went back for dinners,
outdoor showers and the boardwalk.
There was no poem in my head then.
The words arrived as I brushed the sand
from my feet seated on a bench looking back
at the beach and realizing that my mind
was being refilled despite my best efforts
to empty it like a wave returning to the sea.

Pamela Milne

Reaching the heat-hazed noise of the Southern State
with baby oil shellac reeking
flinching with each reminder of car rules,
no sand on the blanket, ten steps from the water

all that dissipated with my turn in the marine green blue
surrounding my mother surrounding me
as we bobbed with the rolling Atlantic swells
her tensioned voice lost to a soothing lullaby.

Rob Friedman


The weather in Kailua in August is much like September
and October. The beach looks the same, as do the waves.
I take comfort in this beautiful sameness that greets me
each morning from my window frame that seems like
a large canvas with the paint and light in artistic motion.
I try to be conscious of not becoming unconscious to this
as I go about my day, working from home, eating meals
to the sound of the Pacific, sketching yet again some small
detail from this enormous scene with bright colors or
with my pen, trying to capture in these lines what this august
beach is, was, will hopefully always be, and failing to do so,
but not letting that keep me awake at night, the surf gently
sliding whispers to me saying Sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep.

Lianna Wright


After murky gray days and black starless nights
Of rain, and rain and rain,
With dawns and dusks the same eerie violet,
Finally, the bridge in Hauula, the next village north,
Failed, and the creek, swollen with mud,
Lava rocks, a torn-up taro field, and
Four rickety houses,
Gushed into the sea, turning the tide
A thick, Kona coffee brown
A littering the beach with detritus.

Every yard was a silvery pool by that time, and electricity a memory.
Then Kamehameha Highway flooded, and the shoulder tumbled
Down to the beach to join the forest of twigs,
Palm fronds and soggy coconuts,
Forming a new structure where the sand crabs
Have already started scurrying over the crumbling concrete.
Next, part of the Koolau, the green mountain
Where the ancient chiefs are buried,
Slipped down and piled up where the highway used to be.

The bus couldn’t pass,
And drivers had to head up the homestead roads
To higher ground and spend the night in their cars.
We won’t even talk about what happened with the cesspools.
But through all this,
Nodding gently in the downpour,
In full purple bloom,
Last year’s Easter orchid endured.

Rose Anna Higashi


This one is at Coney Island
Back in the sixties,
A million beachgoers
Having fun. We're laughing.
She was brave in her new skimpy bikini,
And I'm her guy in my Speedos.
The next day,
We're too sunburned to even hug,
Let alone make out.

Life was good then.

How many children were lost
At Coney Island that day, all crying?
Mothers crying too.
It's been an hour or so
Since their child was last seen.
Fathers are on the hunt.

Dick and Jane
Are nowhere to be found,
But of course, they are
Eventually found.
And the parents yell
At the kids for wandering off.
It's the same every day
At Coney Island.

And now I'm turning
Pages in an album
I haven't opened in years
Revealing surprise after surprise.

No one wants our snapshots,
Our saved moments.
But I won't be the one
Who gathers our recollections
For the dumpster.

David J. Kaplan


I imagine that I can feel its tidal pull.
As a boy the deep water scared me.
My father said “Swimming in 10 feet
of water in a pool is no different than
swimming in 60 feet in the ocean.”
But it is different.
I dare myself to night swim, the beach
is not far but out of sight, below me
is all unknown, and when I step
on the beach that will be unknown,
what she will say, where we will go,
who I love, how we will tread water
when the next Full Moon ends summer
like a night wave breaking heard but unseen

Charles Michaels


I flirt
with a president
of Princeton.
His marriage
falls apart.
His wife
wears a coat
just like mine
chooses a movie
to spice up
between them.

This is when I dress
to swim
find I’m on my board
in the ocean
without a paddle
a distance
from the shore.
I stand surfing
the ocean
which ferries me

When I land
on the beach
there he is—
the president,
with his wife
playing ball
with their kids.

Carla Schwartz


August’s just an interruption with potential
a drowsy slack between Independence and Labor Day
an empty clothesline before sun-up.

Each morning takes on a sheen
as light and consequential as the silvering wooden pins
she’ll clip to the line before it bears weight.

With the sunset rest the trawlers off Napeague
dipping their prows as rhythmically
as she squeezes the pin springs and bows toward the basket.

Rob Friedman


I avoid the beach in August -
too hot, too many people -
and go to the mountains
seeking green days,
trees as sky shades,
short walks to the refrigerator
for drinks and lunch
my paintbox, a new book.
After all, summer ends
in late September
and I enjoy those last weeks
when school pulls crowds
back to classrooms.
I set my blanketed sandy place
almost alone, lifeguardless,
soothed by the tidal clock,
counting off time
to the equinox,
letting the universe
wash over me
like waves at low tide.

Lily Hana Hayashi


Foothill folk far from ocean,
we took summer beaches as we found
them, high lakes trail in June
with our dogs, Roxy fetching sticks
from snowmelt water.
Remember the upper lake, edge
of devil’s-playground boulder land,
water a blue gem set in rocky
beach. I stepped on an exfoliating slab
at shoreline, and out flew a bat
wakened from daytime sleep. Groggy,
it fell into wind-waves, roused
and saved itself.
Now, years later, Roxy’s long dead
and old hiking friends are gone.
Wildfire swept through
that country last summer. This year
it’s just me and the mountain,
lakes blue-washed with late snowmelt,
their lava and granite shores
eroding, surviving.

Taylor Graham


Used to be we'd make a beeline
For the Midway
Ride the roller coaster and the Ferris Wheel
Shoot darts at impregnable balloons
Pitch coins and plastic rings at slippery things
Sometimes win a Teddy Bear

Then we'd head for Chevy Court
To watch a concert
Once was or never been musicians
Hungry for applause — but it was free
We saved what cash was left for food
Sausage, peppers, barbecue
Corn dogs on a stick
Washed down with beer or lemonade

Wore out and low on cash
We might check out the livestock barns
Cows and pigs, fowl and rabbits
Sometimes even Llamas
Teenage farm kids half asleep
Old men in denim overalls

The Sun went down, the lights came up
We found room for pizza fritte or funnel cake
Ice cream covered Oreos or cotton candy
Spent what little change had not escaped
Pockets empty now of everything but hands

Last gasp of summer — August coming to an end
Friends headed back to school, autumn just around the bend
Couldn't be more lucky, if we tried
Felt like we had died and gone to Heaven
Whatever might be going on outside those gates — we didn't care
No better way to spend a day
Than at the Fair

Frank Kelly


My sparsely clad family spread-out
across San Clemente’s beach
toes deeply wiggled into virgin sand
fully refreshed & moisture fortified;

shutter sneezes reigned as siblings snapped
shot after shot from a polaroid camera,
dropping damp photos to the ground long
before instant prints dried, cured & set.

My brothers & I photographed nubile young women
publicly modeling their very first string-bikinis
while Gidget-like sisters zeroed in on gnarly surfers—
wannabe Moondoggies & teenage heartthrobs.

Father raised the 110B Pathfinder high
pretended to frame & to capture pictures of seagulls
in flight before lowering the lens nonchalantly,
sneaking close-up captures of sunbathing nudes.

My disinterested Mother other never touched the camera;
she’d left her coke-bottle glasses at home on purpose,
blurry-eyed—legally blind—she wouldn’t have noticed
if waves ‘d swept her children—or husband—into the sea.

Wisely, rather than spend the entire afternoon jostling
for a turn with the revolutionary device, she sprawled out
along the shoreline, relaxed, worked on her tan, listened
to family members fuss, fight & argue at a distance.

Sterling Warner


The maples are sadder
than July. The skies starving
for rain—for weeks, dry.

The leaves—a quieted down green
like the small caterpillars
who make a meal of them.

As I pass under the crown
the tiny worms drop
to my shoulder, my arm.

Their moths—pink
as a faded begonia
and spring green—

cling for hours
to our window screen.

Carla Schwartz


If cancel culture
Were to extend
To our calendar
I’d have to wave goodbye to August
Sorry Leo and Virgo babies
August though technically mid-summer
Has never offended; it just never appealed
At least not since leaving childhood
And summer vacations behind
Too hot; not hot enough
No holidays; dwindling daylight; fading foliage
the back-to-school stuff on every shelf
Next to the discounted Fourth of July merch
And the full-priced Halloween candy
It’s all too sad
Maybe that its offense
Maybe I’m just on the wrong continent
Maybe the kid in me has been lost over too many summers
Maybe it’s that loss that seems to linger
Just a little too long
During August

Terri J. Guttilla


There is something about a hot night
That isn’t ever going to cool off—
No gentle breeze around ten pm,
No fog rolling in.
This isn’t San Francisco;
This is Mississippi,
Or someplace else a long time ago
Before engineers grabbed control
Of the air we breathe—
Before the big refrigerated Walmarts
Killed the animal in us.
This is the kind of place
Where people walk over to the minimarket
On the corner at midnight for an Eskimo Pie,
Where a man can go through a gallon of sweet tea
Before the baseball game is done,
Where the dogs live in a hell all their own,
And the women put on those flimsy summer dresses
And don’t even think about underwear.
Then even the polite ladies say, “Screw it!
I ain’t fryin’ no chicken tonight!”
There’s something edgy about those steamy evenings
That makes you want to get out your old
Otis Redding records and sing along,
Makes you want to go out dancing
With a guy you know is no good
Just because he’s got an air-conditioned Impala
With a cooler in the back seat full of root beer.

People take risks on nights like this—
They get sick of their own sweat
And run away from home.
They write a letter to someone
Who broke their heart way back when,
And even stick a stamp on it.
And after they’ve kicked off the sheets
For the tenth time just before the doves wake up,
Those mournful heralds of another hot dawn,
They start to wonder
If they could have been wrong about God.

Rose Anna Higashi


The swimming pool fills with autumn,
its water cool beyond the point of comfort.

I skim off early brown leaves,
breathe in the fast approaching season—

the scent of fire-pit smoke
and back-to-school memories—

freshly waxed floors, pencils shavings,
the cafeteria’s tomato soup, stained orange lips.

Norma Ketzis Bernstock

(Caldor Fire, California 2021)

The old man wants to see “his” mountain again
before he dies. A two-hour drive beyond
last August’s wildfire barricade. The road’s open
again. If he still had his sight, he’d see
a panorama as never before in his life – ridges
and canyons bare of trees; caravans
of logging trucks loaded with dead trunks.
Does he need to see this? Yes, he must.
I’ll describe as far as words go. Pull off at a wide
spot, walk scorched soil at an old man’s pace.
Desolate? At road’s edge, wildflowers in bloom –
coyote mint, blue-eyed mary, checkerbloom
I never noticed when everything was green.
Last August, on TV we watched pyrocumulonimbus
growing like a tumor on the sky, or a fungus –
spreading live ember-spores – clouds of the fire’s
own making. Now the old man’s driven
to see devastation for himself. Let him
see the first green spouts of oak from the base
of a charred trunk. Wildflowers blooming out of ash.

Taylor Graham


It’s August


sweat everywhere


deep fried


agonizing brown




scarping flesh


droops sags


its tongue.

Robert Miller


Clutching July’s buck moon antlers
we ride imagination through multiple galaxies
while temperatures rise, grass withers,
flowers die & pastoral scenes turn yellow
paving the way for August dry streams,
cracked clay embankments, large thirsty
landscapes—begging for lightening
to strike & late summer showers to fall
quenching an aching earthly oven, allowing
swallowtail butterflies to dance & mate
on humid seasonal winds, dog days exempting
our sultry pledges & winter commitments.

Sterling Warner


high season
abundant marine life
winter weather
air and water
21 degrees Celsius
or 70 degrees
for summer vacation families
and whales, dolphins,
Galapagos hawks,giant tortoises
adventurers and lava lizards
chilly windy nights
the woman walking beside me says
"It's like the world is upsaide down."

Ana Paula Harcourt