The Lighthouse Point
by Monique Franz
Miller fired his fifth cigarette as he watched two sailboats drift in the Narragansett Bay. He had given up trying to quit smoking as his heart surgeon suggested. He would simply smoke less than his usual two packs a day. He paced himself on this July afternoon. For ten minutes, he dangled an unlit stick in his mouth, telling himself that once the two boats crossed each other in his bay, he would celebrate with fire.
Miller made a trip to the lighthouse twice a year. On the first visit, he would bring a new lady friend along with a bottle of Merlot and two wine glasses. He had a ritual of walking each woman down to the harbor, a steep incline onto a bed of rocks that appeared to melt like candlewax under the sun. At low tide, the rocks were perfect for sitting, courting, and lowering defenses.
Artwork by L. Betsy Lewis mounted onsite at the Beavertail Lighthouse Museum.
The women acted impressed by Miller's knowledge of the lighthouse point. He rambled on about the history of how it all began with bonfires lit by the Narragansett natives to deter ships from crashing into the rocks. How British loyalists thought to construct a taller signal in 1749, a fire tower of Babel if you will. The light was fueled with whale oil until the wooden structure burned to ash. The next tower, erected of stone in 1779, was fueled by whales, gas, and lard until it burned down in 1856. The third “Newport Light,” whose whistle house would be destroyed by a hurricane, was fueled with fossil oil, kerosene, and then powered with new electric technology. This final lighthouse was referred to as “wretched,” "the worst construction of any in the state." At this point of Miller’s braggadocious spill, the women would giggle, and he would propose a toast, “to the worst in the state,” and the women would reply, “to the worst in the state.” Miller would then lean over to kiss each woman on the cheek, and if she was keen to be kissed on the cheek, he could usually kiss her on the lips. If the woman seemed taken aback, not much harm was done, and Miller would know where he stood.
It came as no surprise when Linda, Donna, Lucy, Virginia, Hedley, Cary, and Casey (who he often called Cary) would allow him to kiss their lips. The kisses turned into tipsy laughs, and the lady, whoever she was, would invite Miller over for another drink. The night would evolve into two sleepovers a week until the lady friend invited him to stay for a while – and save a bit of money. The two would grow comfortable until they settled into discomfort. Something would grow out of place, something that neither of them could put their fingers on.
It would not be too long after this settling that Miller would make his second visit of the year to the Beavertail Lighthouse. This trip Miller would make alone when he was feeling especially contemplative after he had just ended things with the lady friend. This trip happened when things had grown too intense, when the woman started wanting more out of the relationship, when she – whoever she was at the time – began asking "where is this going?’ It was usually when, for Miller, the relationship had stopped going anywhere.
Miller forgot to pace himself between the fifth and sixth cigarette, getting lost in the caress of the salty breeze and the lull of Conanicut Island. He thought about Cary who, if he bothered to be bothered, would have been alright to buckle down with. She made him laugh more than the others. When he first told her about the lighthouses that burned down one after the other, Cary said, “You notice that that which lights the house is that which burns it down?”
Miller chuckled to himself at the memory, and watched the two sailboats float further and further in opposite directions. Then, he lit a seventh cigarette, taking a long drag before he uttered aloud, “That Cary. She was a clever one.”
Ode to Beavertail Light
by Grandmother Barbara Herbst
Day 1. I stand at the ship’s rail
And look upon the dock
To see my mother standing, pale
In her broad skirts and her Sunday bonnet.
Her ribbons do not dance on the wind.
There is no wind. We cannot sail.
Day 2. Still we are in port, waiting
Waiting till the wind cometh.
And carry us across to the colonies.
I stand at the ship’s rail.
I look upon the dock. But mother hath left.
Day 6. Alas, we are pulled out of the harbor
By men rowing small boats.
We pray for wind. I stand at the ship’s rail.
I wait and pray. I long to join my husband
In the colonies where he hath made a new life for us.
For me and the children who clingeth to my skirts.
And suck their thumbs.
Day 8. Finally, the wind hath filled our sails.
We are freed from the land and blown to the sea.
I stand at the rail. The wind taketh my hat from my head.
It whipeth my skirts about me. My children cling more tightly.
The sailors urge me out of their way and down to the hold.
I am smiling with a joyful heart that we are under way.
Day 15. The wind hath turned against us.
It pileth up the water into great and powerful waves
That smash against our ship.
The sails strain and threaten to topple the mast.
The crewmen scream at the top of their lungs
But the wind drowns out all sound.
We huddle in the hold, afraid, and unwell.
Day 16. My dearest Ellen hath been snatched from me.
She lay helpless and weak in my arms
And I could not help her. Her life drained from her.
But, she is not alone. A sickness swept through the hold
And seven souls before her were committed to the deep.
Day 20. I stand at the ship’s rail and look out into the glare.
My eyes ache with the glare.
The sea doth not move. The sails are flat.
We are in the horse latitudes. Little Jacob holds listlessly to my skirts.
But there is no need. The ship doth not rock or roll.
Day 30. I stand at the ship’s rail, and I try to draw in the air.
It is fresh and lively. But I remember Ellen.
I remember my mother on the dock.
I am lost in the turbulent gray clouds.
I feel lost.
Day 35. A fog hath swept down on us.
It hath swallowed us whole.
I stand at the ship’s rail, but I cannot see.
There is no sea. There is no sky.
All is gray.
Day 42. I stand at the ship’s rail.
Night hath fallen. I see stars overhead.
The sea is ink dark and endless.
The moon is not risen yet.
At the thin line drawn across the horizon
There is a strong yet fleeting light.
Like a star bold and brilliant low in the heavens.
The light seemeth to flash in a rhythm
It signals us. It beckons.
Day 43. I cling to the ship’s rail.
The sea is violent. It propels us this way and that.
I cling to the ship’s rail and try to maintain my feet.
I am glad Jacob is safe below.
The spray wets my face and clothing.
Sea foam riseth off the water into the wind.
On the wind, I hear the horn warning us away.
Away from the rocks and shoals.
I pray we make it to safe harbor.
Day 44. We lie off Newport.
Waiting our turn.
Jacob and I stand at the ship’s rail.
But, we look back to see where we hath been
To see the light they call Beavertail
To thank our good fortune.
We are arrived. We will be reunited.
We will start our new life.
Jacob will not remember his father, I’m sure.
A Sailor's Lament
by Grandpa Howard Herbst
I sailed from Bristol port
And fished the Atlantic sea
Through the storms so often endured
Endlessly searching for a lee.
Our ship seemed all so small
As tiny as could be
We were forever thrown about
By the cruel Atlantic sea
And then one terrible night
We were wrecked as wrecked as could be
We surrendered to the deep
And it was cold as cold could be
And so my life did end
And my love so sad was she
She waited and watched no more
For my return from the Atlantic sea
And I came ashore from sea
At last I was finally free
In the Juniper graveyard you’ll find
A marker there for me
So Bristol is my home
And at Juniper I will always be
My love she cries the tears
Of her lost-love she had for me.
Though you can hear me forever moan
For my sweetheart now gone was she.
My ghost has finally left
The cold Atlantic Sea.