Seas and seasons on the edge of wetness "Either you decide to stay in the shallow end ... or you go out in the ocean." --Christopher Reeve .. all that we are destined to know, that the water is cold and deep, and the sun penetrates only so far. ~~Jim Harrison
Look into the tidal pool that stands so small, Licked into existence by its ocean mother; Look how sea and sky can stand together In the salt circumference of its circle. When at its edge and peering in, the dark Feels absolute. But, with a little waiting there, What was all sky or night begins to clear. --Look, a starfish, beating like a heart!
I Am an Anemone
A belated report from a seer of being
Living with the sea and surf is every New Jerseyan’s native inheritance. There’s a scrim of winning, of life triumphant, that inheres to such wild and wetted borderlands between the ocean and the dunes that no temporary imposition of boardwalk, beach badge, or scootered police force can ever fully erase. Last year one of the big movies was The Martian, based on a sappy book and executed with boku budget and zero imagination. Their Martian was a man stranded on the red planet, its only inhabitant. Do you want to visit aliens? See a consciousness estranged from our fingers and lungs? Look no farther than under salt water. Here are animals and plants endowed with an elemental difference from our landbound neighbors.
And there, of course, under the sea, we began our evolution to becoming the landlords of dry earth–prince of predators and queens of the eating regime of life. At least, of life on land. Is there another us still swallowed by the sea, still wrapped in a tube of fishy muscle and zooming through the blue? Some watery mirrory reflection of the zest to know all and to impose ourselves on all that we humans have?
When I watch a fish twitch at the end of my hook, its face all made at angles to reduce drag and be an engine in service of its Shopenhaur-like will-to-live, I see my own eye going from glassy to arid as it expends its final minutes on the grass. We are efficient in our environment, and strangers elsewhere. When we succeed in life or business beyond the home, after the lame dorm, strong in our suits and boardrooms, or ably outfitted with a plumber’s wrench and toolkit, it is the old world of going home for the holidays where we feel the most estranged from our daily selves. It is there, among the cranberry sauces and filleted turkeys, that we gasp after the mastery the aquarium of work and our married lives provide.
But still we go home. Still we outfit ourselves with our juvenile social graces, or a newfound awkward silence that puts parsecs between us and our siblings at the dinner table–the green skirts of the christmas tree feeling as alien now as once they were the epitome of comfort and safety.
And so, as a species, we are divers and explorers of our personal pasts, of our nations and tribes, of our civilizations, and even of our previous incarnations as beings zinging along under the sea. It is to that cold water we return equipped with diving gear and lights brighter than sunshine, recording new home movies of the old kelp patch, weighted at the belt to keep us on our visit, the old family, finned and eely, nearly unrecognizable.
I am an anemone–as good an underwater emblem for a writer as anything–a colorful eater of facts and dreams, a living sitter waving prayerful tentacles before this mixed magnificence given again and again until, finally, we start learning to see.
And to see, of course, we must first outfit our minds and hearts with open curiosity. Not to know the answer that will be divulged. Life is no simpering SAT test, but a real engagement with what is. And whatever is, is us.
For this voyage, let us be in love with fins and sinuous things; with the starkly sharp urchins, the deep sulfur inhabitants of poisoned vents, the wild things that neither roar nor fly. Let us be baptized in salt water, and raise our heads again from that furious, wet source of being that first broke us out of dim nothingness into suffering and ecstasy.
Gregg Glory Feburary 14th, 2016
*** The Tide is Wide ***
Voyage off beneath the trees O'er the field's enchanted seas Where the lilies are our sails And our sea-gulls, nightingales. ~~James Whitcomb Riley
Into Morning’s Quiet Overcast I Looked
Into morning's quiet overcast I looked: I saw a great grey bleak of sea-borne seeming, A pewter-cold and winter-empty snowlight that shook Into a wide wayside ditch, that was left sullying Until the sun the somber doleful ocean overtook-- Breaking light like a run of fishes surfacing. Then, every curve of every wave looked up, Brightness burned in every tilted cup, Brightness lifting where endless dim had been: Brightness, brightness in everything.
The September Bee
All along the machine-sweeper's leveled beach As along a lolling dog's long tongue of sand, Or mile-long emory board of luminous grit, I scuffed barefooted, belated, half Working on a late September tan. A bayberry bud, which night had shut, Held tight to something undisclosed, Something daylight's tapping hadn't resurrected, That moved untouched in little starts and fits; I heard a dull interrogatory buzz And stepped a step closer through the furze. Something of summer left unremembered Stirred inside the clenched flower-ball; Something smaller than a bloom gone rigid. When I shook that something--into my palm A something almost dead, almost golden rolled.
Out in a Rowboat
Out in a rowboat above fluorescent bones of coral I saw a sunken world waver as I passed; Rainbow fish and glimmering squid shone floral As the beat of my oars broke the water's glass. I was the furthest thing imaginable to them: An angel in the taunting surf with repeating wings-- As though I'd fallen bone-dry from desert heaven To be a backlit stranger above their swimming. What they were to me, I hesitate to say. The water that kept them, kept them estranged. What enters us truly comes from such a long way, What they were was what I could not name: Dense urchins rolling dark along the sandy floor, Alive with needles as a knitting circle; Sea-lilies waving at a beckoning shore; My own long shadow waving as it wrinkles....
There are images and images in the shifting witness Of the sea, in all that wetness yet unanticipated-- Shape on shape in pilings-on of whiteness That heap rocks blank until no color taints. The artist's canvas there is pure as grass That grew in Eden before Eve had fainted-- Save when Noah set forth in dockless darkness And God's skies a single swipe of blackness painted.
Pugilist at Sea
Up over the side came arms of salt water to deride The insolence of setting forth in so low a thing Where green angry seas swell over-high, Ready to swat what sculling flies try landing. And still the sailor tossed and tried, and still Found hard laughter in sails rabid winds unfurled-- Hands at hips, his face swept wet against The massed contempt of all that brawling swirl. Then night came round, and calm came round, And all the water round laid down a mirror Pearled only by his little boat, and the only sound Was himself cursing at the shrouds, as at prayer.
The Wounded Boat
Coming in blind by feel and raw belief Through a coral-crowded sound alone, Silence is no part of her who lays beneath The grieving whitecaps of this skiff. She is as a child's lone slapping moan, More real for being an unseen reef Panicked hands must guess at through the foam Of moonless midnight--the only shore a brief Invisible applause of leaves that signals home.
The Happiness Mast
The yawing mast above us is What happiness is within us. See it leaning like a needle does To touch the water as it sprays! See it stiffen toward the skies As if to find among those clouds Godhood's enigmatic prize. Of its own seeking it is proud! Climb some midnight with limber daring Into the crowsnest at the top. And there--for a moment's scaring-- Feel your breathing stop.
Brevity blesses By the littleness of its Hash of guesses. * A door ajar is more, in its intention, Than a thousand precepts' edification. * A limegreen wash of dawn, Daylight's eternal line of red Bisecting sky and sea, And day and night--and me. * All the limits of the lake's wide circle Sink superseded by the circle of the sea. A headlight's preening lamp is little-- Is least--when turned to face immensity. * Joggers stamp past on the sandy path; Yellow dogs follow them, oblivious; A startled bird; a shaken branch and bush; --And then the windless returning hush.
What was it that accidentally I'd thought? What, if anything, accidentally caught? Whatever came, whatsoever caught, I found I had to carry in mind alone. I had no other pocket it could call home. Ideas are a nothing that we always need. For all earth's endowment of dirt, they are seeds Light as kelp-spore, a minute's freight that breeds All we are into all of light we see, Breeding upward reach from dark inward need.
The Turnstile’s Lament
The weak ‘sweep, sweep' of marram grass Is enough to make me think of all who pass (Waltzing barefoot as they collect their badges) Out to the sighing surf, out to where they wade Half-mermaid atop green waves for saddle, And all the sea a sweep of pasturage. I myself, a sweeper of the edgeless stage, Turn in the wind, and am turned again, My own weak 'weep mocking as I turn in pain To the beaten sound of wet sandgrains Where enfeebled night kneels and cloaks the day. And all must leave, but the grass and I must stay.
*** ‘Come In, Come In’ ***
If we were the sea, we'd always be dancing... Rhythm from beneath and a breath from above, Foam of all those stories rolling inside us at once.
They were familiar things in familiar places, Photos and postcards and long Xmas letters. Names known down the bones, houses called home, Dogs who, when called, always came running. Old fishing spots that stayed shaded at noon, That always walked catfish to the dinner table. Newspapers snapped back in Dad's wide lap, A porch hammock swung in summer-long napping. Skinned knees, a broken tooth, and brotherly love Tied tight to small fists as red boxing gloves.... Or dawdling at funerals while Mother was crying And Dad and Uncle Jim both restlessly pacing, Tying black ties that didn't really need tying. They were familiar things in familiar places, Familiar as pain in family faces.
‘Come In, Come In’
The coming storm Works its shoreward will until we hear Bands of tangled lightning sear And hurry near. Afternoon rain pats my doubled-over shoulder, warm, And lightly touches hands below rolled sleeves As if to say ‘Come in, come in, Before the final night arrives, Before the last light dies.' I leave trowel and pitchfork where they stick, Our acre subsumed in quick eclipse. Soon rain roars cold against an upturned cart-- Hammerheaded darts Thrown too hard to dodge or miss. All that light allowed to be Kept at bay is bearing down, That kept at sea the sea That's come knocking now. Soon lot, house, and all seem lost at sea, An empty pilothouse surmounting a silver surge, Battered branch and clothesline whistling dirge For all of me. Moonless windows moan and strain To be let in, let in, To not be witness to how outer storm and outer night Bend low to blow out every light. Crouched in our basement hiding place, Thrown shadows fasten cloaks around our heads Crowding eyes toward eyes. ‘When all is done and said, This is home, our home' we would doubtless insist If pressed for definition of our case. Cradled candles elongate cheek, chin and face Flickering underlit Like lightning in an uncertain fist.
The Driftwood Collector
All along the wind-honed blade of bay A nor'easter from upstate's conveying treasure Where sand was warm enough to roll in yesterday And water peaceable, and sleep a pleasure. Driftwood's floating in from a near hurricane; Osiris limbs that have drifted for years Hurry now to reassemble upon the plain: One foot stomping, one arm swimming clear Of all the crosswash late-season storms impose To lie in oafish somnolence on a beach, Turning up worn beards and weather-beaten noses Like trophies, themselves the prize they never poached. Before I retired, there was a log all knew Had been doing a dead-man's float a hundred years Past the point--and if no wiser, no worse anyhow, And bears him up no less then his first year When death pushed him rootless water-ward And time drained his strength like an hourglass And left him grey, and more useless than a board, Hissing where he is when the wind stiffens-- Should he ever drift to beach to my collector's luck, I'll lever him off, and paddle out upon his back.
When I walk early, for hours and hours Upon the beach alone, I watch my shadow shorten through the morn; I throw a stone; I watch it skip at first, then sink and sink. Sometimes a surfer, wet-suited in the dawn And on his own, Sits high upon a single wave unevenly alive As if half-enthroned, The sea all-colors under him, a swell of gasoline. The breaker he rides in will be immense, a wall As wide as eyes can go. Is it loneliness that has him paddle out As far as he does? Alone myself, I ride my dryer hill. I always wave hello.
A Wordless Conch
A wordless conch held at my ear Was a sea-snail's hollow caul; It endlessly sighs of landless wastes, Pulling air into its bowl. Smaller shells in double handfuls Come up in triumphant palms, A ladle dipped at elbows Dripping from nature's cauldron.... How many inching lives in shells Have footed home to death To give our morning walk this beach-- As grand a road as Rome's? Emptied of their residents The little mausoleums arch, Scalloped worn catacombs-- Fleshless in the flashing wash.
I'd thought to put my acre of ocean true, To right-angle the waves with a path for shoes, A promenade for boatmen to steady ashore, To find their way dry again, if lost before. The pilings we pitted deep into grey sand And (aware of parables from the holy land) We stayed that sand with marine cement. (Our pilings would not be wrenched from it.) Four-by-fours and long two-by-sixes next Were spun betwixt pilings to cast a rigid net To keep the sway-boned sea from dancing past When hurricane or waterspout would come at last. I stood back from the work and declared it fit; Looped my floating hopes fast with rope to it; Cracked my back and thought of no more than bed. There I dreamed the years of use that lay ahead.... Came the storm, and stood the pitted pilings fast; The boat by its noose was saved, swamped but clasped. The beach itself was wooed away and hammered back-- All I'd thought sure and trued was flat collapsed, No more than piled sand and rope gone slack.
Wintering by the Atlantic
A midnight ocean and a stippled snow Greyly perceived from a rail I know Shared the grainy dark of here and nearer. What water was above me seemed uncertainer. What rolled in mist below rolled solider. As snow and snow will in snowing meet, What slid down danced into a wild sleet And randomly clung, each to each, Resisting ocean's disassembling touch That undoes the individual who falls And in that fall returns to ocean's all. I could not tell just what my seeing meant Nor how long soundless darkness had been lent; There was nothing there in what was of sky, No help of light to help say why, Only usurpation's snow-deadened hiss That ended each self-formed singleness Distilled from upper vagueness and the cold. They did not fall because they had been told. They fell because there was nothing else to do But fall, and this the ocean knew.
I hold myself treading mid-ocean mid-June, Almost lost among soft flashes of lashless eyes, Loose ribbons of wrinkling waves that rise And through oscillation bend and bend Again, ending even with where they began, Myself a pendulum to their motion Of living hill and sunset ocean-- A golden head lolling in golden swells That lap the iron tilt of buoy-bells Swinging ringing their unattended knells. But who am I, in green abeyance held, Absent village clock and cocooning field? Flotsam in the great swallower, I, A mote of bladdered seaweed beneath the sky Flow myself outflung over rippled sands, Themselves unrolling in a treeless land Where nothing is and no thing walks But scuttles on points and pincers in the dark; Here my bouyed bones must sink, and sink to stay, White as the flippant foam confused in play. Like a criss-cross flag I'm blown about-- Shoreward winds first draw me in, then point me out, Uncertain to which country I am flown devout: One horizon mesmerizes which creeps toward sea, The opposite arc of cliff calls equally, Myself the pupil spot in horizon's round, A fleck of naught between deeps and ground. Not lost, unfound in all that swells surrounding. I float alone on the ocean's groaning-- From fathoms down lifts a gaping sounding, As if a whale's lung, mid-rib, were sawn Into a mouthless mouth too widely open, Blowing hair into eyes with rough inhuman shush. Lipless lips purse: sighing prayer, giving curse. I know not which I'd rather hear in the hush As wave berates wave in the subsuming wash.... If I address what holds me weightless, With head and heart so nearly stateless, I can't be sworn for either evil or good As original author of my flotsam-mood: "O Swallower, belched blanched from what Depth beneath your cold swash and cut Do I rise, a bubble in blown glass cupped? What answer will you make, but swallow all To that treeless dark where answers fall? Your great green page folds and unfolds on every side; On every side you pulse; I am kissed, pressed-- A shifty bookmark anchored in your aching wide: Marking what, beside what poignant passage placed? 'Mid ocean's tassels tossed crest to crest By your wrestler's wet, intensive tenderness, I stretch spreadeagled as blank bells confess-- Unsure of outcome but with a strength to bless."
Reading Lines in the Sea Foam
The continuous white line of the surf Overwrites what was written there first With more of the same. More of the same Mid-sentence message: sans beginning, sans End, an incessant erasure of sea and sand, A crescive hissing as if, as if playing a game. So I walked, myself a man in the middle, As irresolute as unfinished, lulled By the sound, calmed by seeing my footsteps Misspelled as I passed, or stood looking on, Leaving nothing behind to trouble one Who followed tidelines, reading where I have read. If confusion arose which line was preferred The sea never, never slowed for loss of words, As unhesitant in writing as erasure. Indeed the beating thing seemed to be to be, To keep even the pace of newness with waste-- Profligate perhaps, but oh so assured.
*** And Savior Came There None ***
The toil of all that be Helps not the primal fault; It rains into the sea, And still the sea is salt. ~~A E Housman
My Dream of Reefs
More mossy than the stillest wooded pond, More grotto than all those Roman fountains, Quiet as a night without any end-- My dream of reefs, the sandy waters under them.
Roll On, Combers
Roll your rifle-barrels to the beach, Roll with steely reaching. Roll on, combers. Jericho of unfinished walls Roll on, I praise thy roar and fall. Roll on, combers. Crash dice against the jetties, Roll bones against our bleakness. Roll on, combers. Come thunder, come coil of storm, Roll on, voice of throats unborn! Roll on, combers. While time billows and music floods Roll on, repeat the resounding chord. Roll on, combers. Roll as you have always rolled. Roll on, toil, moil of echoes. Roll on, combers, roll on.
A Sailor’s Prayer
Let all not be but rock and fate, A necklace of broken backs Hung round the nearest outcrop. Let mercy guide me and my mates, Let ease enter with every tack Against stripping wind's constant strop. I guess all prayer's beseeching, A word into the wind, a keen Fear for what may come unasked. Hands in prayer clapped are reaching From wave's trough into the unseen, Two oars with lonely rowing tasked. I give thanks when the water's calm, The moon like a pearl upon it And all the slap of waves soft applause. Thanks I give to the Helmsman From Honolulu to Narragansett, Thanks for each wild swell and pause.
"Spray's no place to keep home in, Not for us, who, true, came from wet-- But must live dry with fingered fins." "And ears dry that'd rather hear music." "I'll sing all day, if you'll pull the net!" "Grab your side and heave, and we'll Sing together and call that music." "Oh, heave-ho, the day-o--Aw, hell I've no song for the work today. Janice hates the smell of fish When home I tromp. And that's the way I'm getting to get, too... fish." And so they trawled the silence in Until the sinking sun's oil slick Was well past its orange and golden Wallowing--the bay black, a drained sink.
And Savior Came There None
I bared my chest and brought Myself to the bitter brink; I stepped into two rubber fins, Strapped on a silver mask. Through a tube so narrow, My breath both came and went; A sound like someone drowning To my two ears was sent. Beneath a watery curve of sky I began to dive and glide; Sudden worlds of sunken wonder Appeared bursting at my side. Sandscapes of stranded castles, All colors and every size; Swift fins of fabled angels Rushed silent before my eyes.... What was home now I was here A weightless angel like the rest? Oh, that my restless breath would cease And I be more than guest!
Down and In
I fell into a deepening sea As a star falls out of the night; I fell to unskinnable knees From a too-urgent height. The cold that I encountered Flowed around me--within My star's carbon burning embered, All shining at an end. The seaward insistence of rivers Became ocean's dread suck inside. I rolled among those silvers; I sank into those tides. Now down, and in, and dark, I hang like a lantern suspended. Deprived of wire and spark, The sea inevitably enters.
*** Diving for Pearls ***
Alone 'mongst Indians in Canoes, Sometime o're-turn'd, I have been Half an inch from death, in Ocean deepe, Gods wonders I have seene. ~~Roger Williams, founder of Rhode Island colony
Into the Deep Blue Sea
The handshake of an electric eel Could make a postcard politician feel; The Sun Fish, that seems but half a fish, Makes bullet-passage with its half-swish; Jellies that congregate maintain at noon A delicate transparency of moons; Sharks that mark the green sea-swath Inspire fear with props of fin and froth; The melodramatic dark of the Manta Ray Swings more cape than cutlass in the bay; The nippy urchin rolled on his hairy spines Won't be soon confused for a ball of twine; Flying Fish that scissor off Catalina Out-leap the terrible teeth of barracuda. For every ocean-going predator there is another Who knows an older (and bigger) brother. In this marine realm of fight and fight The old sun's sword cuts but filtered light-- Our salt-stung eyesight goes only so far below The sine of wave and gemmy billow. Although the wide ocean's vast is vast, Our ignorance sailed it centuries past --Our ignorance vaster than oceans! And still for our ignorance we have questions: Not how wide our unknowing spreads, But how deep it still can poke its head. To trawl and sound and step the depth of seas, First we name our ignorance ‘mystery.'
The sea before he entered it was swift, A rift of bright like an abalone shell. Down in, its dance and glimmer grew more dense, Grew nigh invisible, a fist enclos- Ing like glue, a push of rippled weight Buckling his legs behind, or else a silent pull... Waters willing him wade in deeper yet. Crenellations of the waiting reef were Circle on circle of green shingles piled, A pagoda for fishes' flittering sleeves, Keen to keep their wisdom and their world their own. Still he stooped to investigate what gaps Gave access, what recesses might show as Open when poked, kneeling almost where The darkness gathered him forward hunched, Wreathed with fronds or waving fans of coral, Spying spectacularly with his camera and flash --A startlement of light that washed all back As when cosmos first from nothingness was hurled.
Now down, I took my breathing easy, as I was taught. Still, I flinched at fins swiving past my arms, Watched dumb as trailing bubbles belled through wet light Where wide tides walked. Ocean's wounded sound was silence. That enveloped all. That tempered each crested crash of surface waters. That tucked me under--dull quiet--into an unrung bell Of amniotic salts. Slowly, what had galled, gelled into new norms.... Lassoes of shadow cinched, then pooled, without menace. New, hushed harmonies sang out when schooling swarms Divided round the fault I interposed by standing there, a weighted fence. Immersed in those bold blues the ocean knew, I felt at once insignificant and immense: A full and empty vault.
Beneath Actinic Light
Down into a darker level of the sea I sank with oxygen and spotlight; Lead-weights buckled like a studded belt To keep pants up, kept me sinking free. I passed a coral outcrop, color-flooded, And watched the atmosphere give up its glow-- A darkness swelling fresh from deep below Until the most innocent rock looked hooded. For sound I had a squeal of captive air, A tick-tick of equipment like a ladder round Clumsily fumbled going drunken down, With no soft rest of grass waiting there. Before a cave-hole I hung with bright device, The only apparition bearing any light So low below, to that deep under-height. I shined what sun I brought into the crevice: And there I saw a swirl or flash or spot Of more colors than my rainbow count Of red, orange, green, blue, indigo, violet-- A living ribbon of... I knew not.... I tried as many angles as I could access To see what went slippery behind dead coral, But left blind as I had been--without a moral-- Having shoved hand, eye, light into a recess.
No Upper Summer
Deep beneath all that light could bring of news, Beneath empty sky, and beneath the heavy Wet of the Atlantic shelf's continental pew (Where light is crushed into a black mascara jelly And what is seen is felt by eyeless thew), Small volcano smokestacks erupt from rock And pour their sulfur poisons, hid from view-- Hid from everything one would be led to think.... Yet gathered round each bare and broken vent, Arrayed as bloom-petals around a central stem, Plume and worm and life are duly bent, Studying the steady heat as old men Study the hearth-fire in their winter dens. Life hangs, even here, as a clef upon its stave, Singing silent psalms to purgatory summer when No upper summer gives what buried earth burns and gives.
Diving for Pearls
The gold fan-coral waved soft as Gretel's locks And waved me onward, way by way, To pearl-oyster nooks in the pocketwatch bay; Hidden places where none would look. Awash with calm beneath the sunny calm of day, With warmth that kept all doubt suspended, My querulous flippers flapped me upended; Kept nose grounded and sandy-cloudy. An oyster bed I'd found there for just myself, Oysters piled in unsliding mounds. I reached into the pearlescent hill's half-round For what I myself could grasp of wealth. With sack slumped full and hard lungs demanding, I came up fast to the raft for air. I took my short knife and jimmied rims right there, Cracked pulled oysters with rough handling. I poked discarded purple guts for pearls, Held soft sunlight cupped in shells-- Peeled mask and peered to see myself as well. What I saw reflected I would not tell.
Suspension, or The Diver
for Yvonne Montanino A liquid weightless zero pull arrives as She dismounts the boat into the moulting waves; Although she sinks herself as in a grave, Air would be with air and stay alive. All the push of nature pops her like a cork; To keep her curious nose nose-down is work. To reach toward treasure in the yeasty dark She rows against her buoyant heft, an anti-lark. Dimmer blurs emerge as old light lets go And water-deepness keeps her dull below. Then, a burst of breath for pearly curtain, Turns orientation less than certain. No longer can she feel a down in bones, The globe surrounding an emergent zone Of everywhichway arrows, striped and finned. All's confusion, hazard, a map unpinned. There is nor up nor down, but all is round-- And she the center of the spun ball, no less. And then begins a small bubble in the brain: I confess, I must dive into this weightlessness Again.
Swimming Around a Volcano
As if in search of revelation I Descended, dived Between dead cracks of an old volcano Island abandoned By all but reefs. The plunge undid me-- The world I entered Reeled unreal, slopes of black glass and ash: Pleated cliffs That slid at every angle like fallen wings. And the sea was grass, As in a psalm of inattentive shepherds lost In strange valleys Floods had closed. Glad rayed fans of coral Reached like wreckage-- Unpruned since the solitary cone had cooled (Oh, an age ago As far as new life proliferating might reckon), Lifting their neon palms To desert heaven. And, above heaven, silent, God, absent and calm.
*** Finding Lionfish Everywhere ***
Full many a fathom down beneath The bright arch of the splendid deep My ear has heard the sea-shell breathe O'er living myriads in their sleep. ~~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
A Transparent Heart
Unclouded I sit at my tideline task. Hipless jellyfish pulse, intricately limbed Between my knees, beneath my diver's mask, Bell-bodies beating slow as living chimes. Their white summer dresses but lightly veil A teasing rictus of richer innards: A plume of brain like a peacock's tail, A transparent heart that shows the sand. Here's one who feels a nothing in my hand, Whose string limbs curl their inching purple Around a curved inviting fingerend As if a morning reminder tied--and lapsed. All I had forgotten floods to mind suddenly; Expelled thoughts that had been supple Cloud my mask with breathing ill-at-ease, Complexing a day that had been simple. No longer can I play easy as they seem, Letting tufts of plankton, water, light, and all Pass through me as through an open transom-- My heart beating transparent, clear and small.
The Hermit Crab
When he lets his inner curl of anchor go Like a weightlifter giving all that gravity back And leaves his comma tracks incised in dough Pointing like a murderer to his abandoned shack, He drags all of himself there really ever was Across the sea floor's unforgiving foreign sands Into some striped or spotted larger emptiness, And there drops anchor, there makes his stand.
Damselfish are farmers: kill coral bald, Then plow an algae patch on the barren spot. They'll bite an intrusive diver waving by, Tap angry at mask and gear until they weary-- So keenly they tend what they raise on rock. Toward every threat they flit: diminutive, bold. Their bluff of territory they domesticate, Chew wrong weeds away, howsoever small, And comb with care each ragged straggler spume. They fence close their field with a farmer's gait, Name the milk cow, chime the children home. They flit and flit unfailing, hovering over all.
The Clownfish and the Anemone
A clownfish, my dear, whose name is mirth, Lives laughing within neon harms of his host; Fans out orange scare-fins at butterflyfish; Grins his teeth and retreats--in home tentacles lost. The anemone herself, a squatting chalice, Throws her fist of poisoned arrow-arms to sting; And then into her central hive of malice Recalls sparred darts, her living victim entangling. Together they live, you see, together thrive-- The clownfish aerating and defending, The anemone parrying and providing-- A dance of two as intimate as anything alive. A dance as endless as a willful marriage; A dance, my dear, I daren't disparage.
Whales Falling like Leaves
An indigo shadow falls along the ocean floor That in shallows would be a beginning reef And start a coral flourish from a spoor And bring, in time, some tidy ship to grief. But here in deeps the ship of skeleton is cast, Lowering to be feed, and not to be fed, A blue whale corpse settling in at last-- A sleeping giant on a giant bed. And here for years will come the uncomely work Of claw and tentacle, enzyme and tooth; No bones left for an archeologist's pick, Who could admire such appetite for truth.
Wanting God in the Seaweed
Just beyond what grasp would give to want, Just where my shrunken horizon's foreshortened By kelp and eelgrass and water-logged sand, Till all I see's a greeny mix-and-mist Into which I adamantly wish to stretch and reach, And find beyond my finely granulated sight Something to hold to through the shade of night, Something to give assurance, however slight, However less a something than a pebble caught And kept in reminiscence in a handy pocket And petted for luck, or looked at like a locket, Something to calm the terror, as a beach By the ocean's attentive petting palm is laved, That keeps its variable fringe of whiteness crisp With the back and forth of wrist and whisk Of that invisible hand who never waved to me.
The Octopus’ Ghost
An octopus I had not known was there Jetted off--and left aloft his ink ghost Dancing eight tentacles in water-air Off a shoulder of coral, a foot at most In front of where I hovered unaware. It had, in ink, the shape of sagging brain-sac; It had the sly suavity of tentacles As well, believably beating in its track. Itself had long gone behind pinnacles Of dawning coral, and would not come back. With my own waiting sack weightless in hand, I prodded a likely cranny or two, Hoping to cull home what now coiled hidden In rock and nook. I poked, too, through what debris The octopus had left for hint about his den. What feasts from his dinner-plate were scraped! Crabs galore, as well as fans of scallop shells Like leaves blown in the wake of striding capes; An empty turtle rocking like a bell; Fish skeletons delicately draped. I wavered amazed, inked in my own surprise. What had I thought would happen here below? All morning I'd chased the octopus for prize, All morning observed camouflage and flow Of the watchful octopus, his goatlike eyes.
Finding Lionfish Everywhere
Watch the waving lionfish in deeply dappled light: His slender fins are batons conducting camouflage, Tricks of if adept at blinds as the coming on of night: Dimwit eyes see zip in passage of his wild extravagance. So he weaves, decieves, and is, with many gaudy brocades As a zebra's made to blend and be, a wave of the savanna; As aged great apes with false politesse share rare bananas-- Retitred prizefighters holding hands, retreating to shared shade.
The Goliath Grouper
What thoughts are gathered in a grouper's eye, Who watches quiet-gilled reef-life go by? Unstartled as a weedy rock, he juts A low slow-opening brown jaw that waits Until some swimming bits of mere scenery Focus into French Grunts, get bit as bait. What the grouper thinks, with his down-turned pout Jabbering wide between coral's teal rebuttal points, Is what's caught by him is caught for good, Beyond debate good Socrates understood. --His principle dissolves all beyond retort. Whatever he thinks, he lives by this inner acid.
Reaching After Stingrays
Stung by something about the whiptail ray (That mere leaning past my gunwale couldn't relieve), Had me slither under water a little way To unsettle sand, and give the sleeping ray a shove; And note which way, if any, it might move. As sand spread flat on sand it was well-disguised; An anxious angler had naught to notice Who noticed not its eyebrow-pleated eye-- No more than a black marble made of ice. I laid a bare finger down to stroke its spine. My eyes went shut, as when prayer comes, Or trigger-pull releases a clapping shot. The last I saw was a shiver of skirts; gone, The sudden nothing of a disturbéd spot Where sand had lain allayed--an untied knot. Its muslin, I'll tell you what, was mostly spurs, The petting of a sandpaper cantaloupe; Like hanging on bare-handed to a spar Too long, while your sailboat works a slope; Compelled to keep on hanging on to hope Without the relief of a defining splinter To remind sore palms what has been survived. For all my alien contact, I lacked a scar. I forgot to watch it fly to new disguise-- The ray's rough touch so froze me mesmerized.
We watched a barracuda through a drive of tuna Cull the moving grove like a narrow gardener Buzzing dewy hedgerows bloody with each pass. Like a needle neatly teethed it turned and passed, Its narrow head thrust neat as any tempered sword Into the passing banks of backs, the flanks of passing tuna. With more than death's blade it laid the silver sward-- With a tailor's attentive vim it slimmed the herd And let the hardy swim on hardly swerved. You'd've thought it would've had to look more hard, Swimming thick through such puffed clouds of blood.... We let hard breaths escape we hadn't known we held.
A Symphony of Limpets
I touch cratered spots of dead-ember rock Where limpets live and carve their days in quiet; They've left round fingerpads for flutes, mocking The silent sea with music quite as mute-- And I imagine them going so, notes without sound, A moot music that moves me as I ponder it, A gnarl of icy current coming down Stiff against my neck, a thrill like Mozart. The limpets pulled themselves away to graze Dispersed among wet wonderments of rock. Nightfall finds them home in full assemblage, Stone-gowned choristers in stone pews, their stops Shut up from the melodic play of day; Hunger's harried morning at rest in surfeit. Suckered to the deep rock's dimpled grey, They seem no more than a cluster of camp tents Returned to fireless quiet and nightlong wait. Nothing's happened here, I know, and yet....
a nudibranch ballet An interstellar cloud as red As a flamenco dress' drape Whirled alive from heel to head While I gaped. Every pulse of its skirt To love was spur; A rouge that had the look Of blood in water. Staring at my Spanish dancer I balanced less on tarnished earth (Such constellations are so rare) Than heaven's turf. Vouchsafed a glimpse (Temporary, reddish, blurred) Of all that love could wish: Ecstasy's the only word. I longed to throw away Myself with such abandon.... Instead distilled I stay, To life condemned-- An underwater witness To all her flare and flash, Hung embalmed in wetness As if in ashes.
Pins and Needles
A rubber fin disturbed an urchin With its wind, set it rolling on its pins Until, irked itself, it came to a tottered Stop, its rayed array of clockhands locked-- As when a seamstress pins her pattern Until her stitching ticks tight each seam And she shakes her gown in sunlight, and it gleams. So all that lives seeks an equilibrium; Like the talker who hammers hard his theme, Only to stutter it home to a glottal rest. Thus the urchin squats, itself its own wild nest.
When We Were Lungfish
The sea is our cold underworld for sure, Stranded from us by interposing glass-- A transparency through which we once had passed, And once only, tenderfooting to the lure Of being safely beached out of water's danger, Of being able to safely lay our eggs, and lie A moment unmolested before we died. We were lungfish lunging lustily from water, Away from the sea's dire dread and hunger Which sizzled at our backs as we basked, Reminder of the fire with which all life is tasked And to which, lungs burning, we went back under.
Sea Turtles in Moonlight
When our moon at perigee comes bobbing low, And dots of turtle hatchlings get tottering Toward eating surfs the moon's low blues arouse, We wake to watch such evening things carouse. We imagine magic moondust falling, Silvering starting life with its enhancing glow.... But such light we love is made of nothing. Such a moon--big, rare--is neither here nor there. Life does what life must, despite moon's baleful dare. Ridley sea turtles crawl flaring seaward, Killer whales calve when aches come nearer, No matter how far the moon is raised or lowered. So, too, we swim into the dousing fate we share: Forward, forward, however awkward toward.
Fiddler Crabs Walking Backwards at Sunset
A crab scrabbles in the sidelight like a hand Following the brown back-and-forth of tidal froth, Leaving crabbed cuneiform music in the sand. Broad-backed, elaborate in their armored masque They seem to play impervious to sympathy --Some Schoenberg concerto more like math Than music, tracing melodies beside the tuning sea That anchors their staticky abstractions With a patient mother's patient shush and sigh, A mother's low oboe-toned repetitions Calming crablike child-hands pulling at her hem-- A consonance like strummed guitar-strings coming then.
Treading Water in Mosquito Bay
the bioluminescent bay in Vieques, Puerto Rico At midnight, the bay's a blue florescent iris. By day, nothing strobes the water but its sheen, Polished green like one large tropical leaf-- A royal palm, perhaps, or some other green. Later, sunset tips its bucket of jelly yellows, Drips its fist of melted crayons to belilac The unwary eye, as day goes wet away into the west And slews of broken inks bleed out veins of night. It takes a long while to notice, as one stands looking, The faint, hairy, spectral, disturbed bulb-glow begin: How slow to show that blue, like a deflated moon In the bay, or calm dead face tilted at the chin. Soon swift wakes of kayaks come with tails of white, And naked swimmers dim the eye, ephemeral Water-skimmers stirring a placid plate of lake-- Around their beating limbs, a phosphorescence: frail Wings and feathers.
*** Crying Ahoy! ***
When you and I and sunset go Away and come back Always there's the quick feeling "oh! Never again just that."
Making the Breakers
I swam until my breath was near unreeled, My tired feet beginning to blue with cold, My wet face raw, freshly peeled. I was almost back to where breakers crashed, In from the solipsistic serenity Of a farther sea's swollen wash. I made the float's spare deck, and flung upon it, Scrabbled uneven in the sudden rocking, then Felt hard waves hit as first I sat. All the horizon-line--where eyes would hold, could Hold in all the wave of world surrounding-- Was sea reeling, and so cold.
The weathercock is the wisest man. ~~Emerson, Journals The ocean flat as a ballroom Lied an idle unswaying blue, Unmoving as a quadrille Uncommenced, concealing still What turbulence might come. The storm's fox-trotting rim Encroached smoky and smeared, A hem of darkness lapping near. Despite our not wanting it Bad weather came--it came anyway, Its thunders en pointe in a troupe. The little craft's tango yaw And debilitating rapid pitch Dipped us jaundiced to our gills; Back-leading the lifted rail, We felt green horizons shift. Rod and line, set nodding, pressed Step-by-step into clipped chassé; Still stronger weathers threatened near. The captain tapped his radar clear-- Sweep and countersweep cried out Allemande left with a caller's shout: Cloudbanks do-si-doing there, our Dark partners bowing, fear to fear.
Versions in Runny Moonlight
I The moon like a run of soldering on calm water, A silver seam between two broken shelving shards, A liquid line that welds the world together; What had been separate has come to oneness, hard. I I Laying like a discarded satin tie, the moon upon the waters; All those bronze sheets of day torn off without a trace, Just this one loose dock-rope thrown from the departing boat-- A line of luminous paint on a dark and changing face. I I I A sparkling line of gunpowder leads to the furious moon, A barrel of spoons tipped into the slow smash of waters Beating on seas' wide knees a raggedy country tune. Whatever Song has brought me here, I say: let this one bring me farther.
Joyriding the Night Sea
In the pulpit of a powerboat, I pitched and passed the last black buoy. I was flying at hazard past bay and float Far into the dark, far past scraps of day. The trussed hull slapped and rattled like a bow Once the arrow's loosed, once the sprung string untwists Back into the normal tension life allows-- My thrashed spine raw as an archer's wrist. Spray that left the bowsprit in a whip Flash-froze my face to its forward task; Whatever thoughts might keep an inward grip Left no outward trace as they passed. Darkness was all, and darkness all I was. Above, no puncture appeared for stars to shine. Beneath, a deafening raging motor buzzed Driving the fiberglass arrowhead Blind into anything alive.
Meeting at Sea
How the running wave assaults the pebbles With polyuphloisbios on its breath, Sliding up in such hurried fluffed excitement You'd think the sea came reporting troubles. Yet the sea has no more to tell us two of death Than its usual haul of impermanence. No more floods from its mouthful bubbles Than yesterday's foam had told in brief, Or, indeed, what the day before that had meant. What I keep an ear for when we watch the wash Briskly sweeping the edge, is not belief, But to hear known news in doublement. The one cold comfort that comes with age Is how old saws still cut true with grief, How sighs race sands to bewilderment And go on sighing their wavery treble, Tide in and out sighing without cease In the same wet bliss as when first we met.
First Push, Then Pull
Sand flows slower through hands underwater, Meets more resistance, as a child her dad's cheek Kisses more carefully unshaven. Time itself seems less pressed to palter When flowed along through a tide's enlarging lens, The hourglass turned and turned again. Here a stasis friction where edges met Seemed to rule us all that long first afternoon, Keeping us standing like fountain shadows. We were just ourselves it seemed, and yet Slower, like sand in tidal pools at noon, Warmer where the sun flows oblique below. In our tidal stillness we standing stood, The sea as salt within us as it was without, All push and pull at pause. And that was good.
Together the Moving Waves
Together, quiet, we moved in the wake of waves, Together found the rhythm of how we were made To be together, and be together saved. All afternoon we lived in all the play of shade And play of wet and light as rayed sunset Summoned us to dinner beyond the cove's glade. Together before pineapple and pork we sat, Two dim humans alight with love of all The love we had, and in that light we ate. We sat until the stars themselves began to fall Singly into the shingle of the sea And so made place for still new stars to fall. It was as if we sat at creation's knee, Two serious children thrown into the all And settled on the ocean's verge to be.
Chihuly’s Illuminated Spears
Chihuly's illuminated spears line the gravel walk, Tossed from a florescent urchin's stegosauric back. The Seattle night is wet and fresh, a champagne wash Frivolous and spastic as the sea's moulting crash. Inside the glass house, a signature warp of light Douses the house's sides like a blue-whale's flukes caught Turning screwise in twilight off some far Pacific isle. We dare a side-room. Above, oddities bobble, quilled Radiant by strobes, directed lances of dapple-light-- As if we lived enreefed beneath such laser shapes of sight: Orange palm-fronds frozen lustrous in mid-unfurling, Razor aloe-limbs pronged and leaning gleaming Like licked licorice-sticks. Nearby, purple fluted gourds Gangle at all angles: ripe, overripe, engorged-- Trumpets, too, of red sponges, while canopies of eyes Pop surprised from indigo skeins of rind--corkscrew rays Of yellow intensity, the abrupt structures of cell Automata, endless whims of fin and tooth, flares of hell A drowning man, a man sans land, knows all too well.
The Quiet Tide
In the lonely presence of the quiet tide There's a wisdom the cawing gull derides. Look about you: in life, in death on every side. There is wisdom in subside, subside, subside.
*** Essay ***
Eye of the Devilfish
Finding large nature looking back. Grand Cayman, circa 1974
It was our first winter in paradise, as the flair-panted travel agent had named it. Perhaps, if our cranky memories could be searched, or sifted, we might be able to rehearse other names, other colors. It was a strange island spot, a stone in the ocean; a black volcanic liberated of its native Caliban until my dad winged in. Or maybe, dwelling in the distracted haze of the past, it is actually some type or taste of an involuted, infolded space, like a physicist’s undone laundry, and not the island haven the glossy brochure proclaimed at all, with no long stretches of unblemished sand tastefully spiced by ripe brown native boys singing hymnals after dark.
Whatever it was, our squeaking wheels touched it and our silver wings groaned when released by its buoyant being of their humid load of air. The airstrip’s attendant, whose dark trousers were enlivened by nimble piping, and who had rolled the streamlined stairway to our squat airplane’s door, lifted his blue policeman’s hat in greeting before hunching off with all of our crammed winter bags under his thin arms. He trundled them to the custom-officer’s desk in a cavernous aqua-blue room, disturbing the game of Caribbean solitaire in which he had been immersed (in that quaint island version, voodooic queen outranked staunch aces). A frowning queen of hearts pinned my still snow-booted toe as he gave our bursting bags the standard shuffle and no lurid contraband emerged.
The five of us had trouble getting all the cases through the far door that dawned on palms which our porter-cum-custom’s-officer-cum-police-chieftain had managed to wrangle to his dinged desk with a gibbon’s ease, and had to wave goodbye with only four stiffly wiggling fingers, all of our thumbs still stuck through slipping handles.
Once at the huts, adorably florescent and fashioned of an enduring type of concrete, we let our northern layers of zippered skin slither from us in a sweating frenzy that eventually pooled at our feet in a species of languid gratitude. Old skins and old whims (as represented by the fragrantly sticky multi-hued stain of a forgotten popsicle picked up at the Newark terminal and allowed to bloom thus darkly on my dark December coat) were left in a soggy stack by the front egress, not to be re-touched or re-donned until the last, lingering tick of the vacation had passed and we were ready to reassume the cold masks and colder duties of our remote, home, higher hemisphere.
My brothers and I, all boys, spent a few gummed moments twisting out of our snowpants and screwing back into our handy mom’s proffered shorts before racing out the pliant backdoor towards the hunkered gem of the ocean. Looking back down the cross-hairs of time’s telescope, I spotted the droning outline of my dad (already on the phone conducting his sinister business) and the docile, backlit slide of my mom, methodically filling the empty drawers with our horded summerwear, and efficiently slipping lifeless thing onto thin hangers. From the dark, angular closet, a ghost-white shirt shook its sleeves in parting as we scampered headlong down the sweetly simpering beach.
We were met at the drooling lip (or perhaps it was knee-deep on the lascivious tongue) of the peacock-blue sea by the two underaged representatives of a blonde quartet that composed the entire tidy family of one of my dad’s harem of business associates. The dissolving names of the two before us, standing in the photo, as it were, long and tan with white shorts, come galloping up from memory’s transmogrified mess, in one of its babble of reassigned languages–which correlates strangely (do not ask me how) with its hazy tendency to switch beloved heads and plop them on the glimpsed frames of IDless bodies, giving some blonde and tanned cousin a pale and darkly furred torso, or worse, wrenching some ebon-haired past-love with a classic nose and twinkling eyes onto the still grinding pelvis and shoulders of a cheap pick-up (one of those fated matings tinged with incestuousness) whose active legs were patched together by a starkly orange pubis–come galloping, as I say, these names, to the tip of my still remembering, still trembling tongue to tumble out in plain prose, this far from the original inspiration of the actual beach, as King and Courteous. Well, it is obvious that I have misplaced somebody’s bags and tags, but it is as close as I can get, squinting into memory’s dim box. As the men of the Fire League say, or chant at their bachelor barbecues, A hose is a hose is a hose.
It was not very long before the older of the pair, courteous King, not royally lonesome Courteous, got the idea of hopping into his bleached dad’s Boston whaler, the Sun Temple, and hailed the rest of us, still swirled in sand, to abandon our half-melted castles and sagging minarets and join him where the tingling, tangled water thumped his prow. We jumped from our tepid tidepools, abandoning our squids, and leaving cruelly declawed crabs in our wake, and slogged against the rising tide to reach the uneven gunwale out of breath.
As we whisked along the island’s edge, Courteous kept us entertained with stories of the family doberman pincher, often caught thrusting its whittled head into the neighbor’s mailbox to retrieve shampoo samples, or of Courteous’ own innumerable rescues from neighborhood hoods at the trained teeth of the dog, which died unattended at the end of its chain, barking at a lark. Soon we were looking into lunar reefs, navigating purple hazards, tooting creatureless shells that stank of brine, yodeling and crooning at top speed over the liquid undulance from which we had spilled out of bed as hubris-stuffed dollops of kaleidoscopic slime.
After an afternoon freshened by our escapades, we had wound up in a luminous little cove where the deep bottom sand pulsed blue in time to the lulling swells; monstrous turtles frolicked and played at semaphores with their four fleshly underwater wings. Our original excitement had quieted to occasional oohs by this time, and we were content to drift between measureless sea and measureless sky, or in and out of a fluttering sleep, trailing lazy limbs in warm sodawater.
There are rare moments, fugitive instants, that glitter with a recollected condensation when our span is wished up upon us again in sullen reverie, and time collapses like a circus tent down an unshakable centerpole, the radiant nodule of a nodding minute or sparked millisecond, reducing rounded shadows of events to mere flats, bringing us flush with the twilit distant past, erasing accreted differences between our current selves (a treacherous fiction) and the doomed, slavish selves that we were, which, although they seemed complete at the time, intense, capable, undecided, they must now repeat our ruinous film upon command, decisionless ghosts dissolving halfway up the same stairs forever, kicking out the stilts that keep our feet dry and separate us from the marmoreal, miasmic, mammalian mire of memory, reducing a vibrant now to a sanded then, collapsing space. Or, actually, I suppose, such magnetic moments enlarge us from our vague potentials and unrealized wholes into exact fractions, infinite in their compactness as failed stars–as opposed to the puny view which history with its crooked stack of flashcards affords. Well, however it is, one such zinging instant was about to descend upon me then, nine years old and in a boat, watching clods deform and defoam above me, my tingling hand grounded in live currents.
But what if this sacred event were merely baptized in tired bathwater and Mr. Bubble? So what! In my mind the constellation of differing blues takes on the fixed geometry of a premonition, a blue five of hearts licked to fate’s crinkled forehead, pale sky, robust blue trunks warmly pasted against me, neutral blue bench plank before me, hopeless blue cloud-shadow diffusing and re-fusing all around my lightly flecked, heavily targeted, heavenly blur-blue eye. I can see now that I was ready then for the unknown next. There was a faint wrinkle-wrinkle sound in the water. Coeur-hearted Courteous, I think, snorted, while stately King squinted with sleek regality at the horizon from his pose on the prow. I still had my bright eye on the everlasting. And then, out of nowhere, out of an illusionist’s hidden hat, out of the invisible ocean, it came.
Having no taste, or, at most, a fading aftertaste, or burp’s hint, for the bilious and overblown, I suppose that I should simply present my phenomenon, have done with it, and click to the next slide. Very well. enough ghoulish suspense. Dimensions: twenty-four feet if an inch from blunt front to whiplike stern, side to side another shadowy twenty perhaps. General shape: flapping diamond. Skin: slick, oiled oil in shaded, rough under magnification. Mouth: a surreptitious incision invisible when not gaping wide enough to swallow in one convulsive gulp a pumpkin the size of a human head. Gills (for it was, indeed, a creature of the sea I met): a terraced series of similar incisions, following the graceful flow of line of the calculate-in-the-direction-of-infinity sign in calculus (a lower-case italicized f minus its horizontal stripe). Have you got these disparate parts firmly in hand, or in mind, rather? Very well. Toss them and think gestalt, gestalt. Has the monster materialized from your foam, or is the puzzle still jumbled? Oh, all right, all right, quit tugging my sleeve, I’ll tell you, I’ll tell you.
Like Botticelli’s Aphrodite, flying from the hysterical slalom of the sleeping sea-soma, this awful shadow emerged, breaking the cursive crest of its sheltering wave, and sledded, an awesome twenty-four-by twenty of sea-beast, no more than four feet over our rickety deck. I recognized it instantly as the sweaty, living version of several smaller miniatures (all fearsomely detailed) I had seen printed dinkily in my well-thumbed Field Guide to Sea Lore. There it was called, in the all-caps title to its own article, THE MANTA-RAY OR DEVILFISH, by Wally Stevedore. The poor, lost fellow, out of his supportive element, seemed to sag and waggle a bit at his skinny tips as he loomed for that brief, hovering moment above the boat. Was there terror and fire? White cowardice in our young hearts and rubbery limbs? There was shade and sky, a shuttle of bright and dark that I now replay, a dripping instrument of the miraculous followed, in its pop-up appearance, by clinging tendrils of stage-smoke.
And then, poof! it was gone. The apparition dissolved that, probably, the tuna sandwich on Courteous’ breath (combined with our raw boy-smells) had called at a stroke from the zeus-azure depths. The placated boat, still sluggishly full of gas, wobbled like a robin’s egg cradled in the inquisitive palm of a girl with glasses; this palm was attached, I am, sure, to my ghost half-sister who never quite managed to get born, but who I have always had, in my head, the most stubbornly glowing image of (nimbused or coronaed by a lucky sunset touching her hair with its radiant bubble). My heart, wrecked and wronged by nine years of wear and tear and care, seemed, for the moment, drained and spacious, a tapped swamp relieved of its dreams. One could still see the awkward shapes of clouds going divinely by.
Here the hesitant gesture offered by the dissipating trunk of a swollen elephant-cloud uncurling towards a shy mouse- or grouse-cloud retreating into a misty skidmark. There, the missed clasps and forgotten hugs of busy vapors, demonstrating as in a classroom nature’s purposeless stridency and demand for estrangement. But closer to me than even those immaculate splotches, closer, and nearer and dearer, was the monstrous darkness that had hovered for its soaked moment over my soul, sea-musty and heavenly, silent and wet. And there it still hovered over my sunken kid’s chest, skin intact, unlike the one I had gaped at later, less willingly spreadeagled, and which I had taken an older, grotesque interest in, as if peering at myself in a queer mirror, dead an vivisected on a dock in Miami. Huddled together as we were under that cauled shadow, my monster and me, I myself having been almost bundled off into sleep by the sea’s queasiness, I felt, or think that I remember having felt, some gelatinous tentacle of the thing’s being reach down towards me out of that black diamond, and something slippery in me leap up.
Also, and this I have concealed until the penultimate minute, I had spotted, in that torpid solstice, folded in our communal awning of shadow, up in the instantaneous blackness that had come whispering out of the sea to bury us (or save us, as I once overheard in some terrorist ceremony at a Satanic Church revivalist meeting held, covertly, in my own basement–without my consent or foreknowledge–from my pinched position behind the umber altar where I had been laying ant traps, and stuck under an inverted cross where the carved blood flooded up), and in the backward abyss of memory still spot, the slow, maddened revolution of the great creature’s moist sustaining eye.