This is the final poem of Split-Tale Sea. I started this project for a number of reasons, but the main one was the effect that water has on my (lacking a more universally received word) spirit. Water makes me feel more like a human. Quieted. Calmed. But also, buoyant. Alive. Here.
And I’m not alone in this: both scientific study and anecdote alike reveal, over and over, that water has this soothing, renewing effect in general. (Disclaimer being, probably not for anyone who’s afraid of it, but then again, oh my, what if that fear were overcome?!)
Thus, much of the whys are documented.
The whats, perhaps less so.
By whats, I simply mean: what can be done with this feeling? What Source first summoned the water to arise, and how can we seek more of its settling energy? What can one possibly bring into this world with the live-giving and healing that water gives?
Just days ago, being on the water brought me back to myself once again. And maybe that could serve as one answer (of many possible answers) to those questions: that is, what the water can prompt in us is as simple as a reminder.
Taking a break from the series for the moment. This is a story I wrote this morning before hearing the news of the death of one of my heroes (mine, and so many others’)–now, it seems eerily/oddly fitting. Lest we ever forget that there is no peak in life that will save us. It is so easy to forget to simply live. But maybe this will help someone (anyone) remember. I know I need the reminder often enough. (God, but he reminded me…)
While something more specifically in memory of his marvelous existence will surely be here soon, this piece is in his honor. Tony, you were and are loved.
You Are Climbing
You are climbing.
And there comes a point wherein you begin to wonder: Will I ever see anything that tells me I’ve reached An Apex—if not The Apex? Will there ever be a sign? Will the vista be enough?
You keep climbing, yet you harbor this doubt in your heart.
Then, suddenly, there is no more stone shielding your eyes. The mountain face falls away. Pink clouds greet you in the belly of a pale blue sky.
And all you can summon is,
This is it? This can’t be it.
You were climbing. And now you are not climbing. How foreign it feels to you.
What to do?
You can choose to sit or stand, and to stare and linger, because the view is, admittedly, beautiful. Even if it is not the Utmost of anything.
Or, you can choose to keep going. To return to that constant sense of Up that you know so well. To, as the song puts it, see what you can see. Because maybe there is an Utmost and maybe it feels more potent and powerful than this.
Letting the crisp thin air filter through you, you decide, yes, that must be the answer.
You begin your journey once more.
Or so you think. Because as you turn to depart, to descend,
The light catches your eye in a way subtle and strange.
It is for a half of a second; no longer. But something about the colors that strike you then—
It sends you reeling.
It reminds you of a summer, years ago, where all you did was walk by the riverside and watch sunsets and read. Sometimes you painted. Sometimes you swam.
Mostly you did not, though. Mostly you embraced this—what would you call it?
How could you have been capable of that, though? It feels so near
So far away.
But that flash of Then, that memory, is yours. No doubt about that.
Once upon a time—once there was no Apex. It didn’t matter.
I wonder, are the words that cross your mind now. I wonder. Could it not-matter again. When did it even begin to.
There was a story that was told. Wasn’t there?
A myth. It should have been called what it was. Mythology. Fantasy. Fiction.
But it’s not too late. Right? You step back to where you were before, and you sit. You breathe. You watch the light move through the clouds, like a gentle waterfall. You remember.
You remember that there was someone who you loved before all of this began. That there were grounded dreams you had, dreams with shape and texture and definition, absolved of the Utmost. That there was a world beyond this mountain range, a world you wanted to see and explore.
It could be, the volleying cries of the birds seem to say. It could be again.
It is nearly time to descend; you know because the light is shifting in the direction known as Late Afternoon.
But, you think, let’s give it a minute longer. Let’s linger here. Let’s remember what that really means.
What do beached whales have to do with depth, and bridging gaps? Questions I attempt to answer in this next installment. Audio and text below. Enjoy + happy Friday!
The whale was grey, not white; her stench filled the air,
An eyeblurring cocktail of fish bones
Baked together in midday sun.
The whale was grey, but dark,
Tinted with inky indigo. What colors! cried the crowd that flocked
To see the beast beached on the shore,
Their eyes hungry for something new and lovely—
Here she was.
Enormous and abrupt, a miracle.
Or rather, how they always dreamt
A miracle would be. A gift from God, one whispered. Marvelous.
The whale was grey, like a circus elephant.
She did not act like one.
She seemed to sleep: slow rhythmic breaths like steam,
Like a truck stopped to let off exhaust.
Her spout pulsed, now-and-then, to send
Bulbous clouds of water choking through:
Three times in the first hour;
Once in the second.
A cluster of children clambered atop her brow
To feel the flow
But soon the sun sucked them dry, too,
Sending them back to their mothers and fathers
Begging ice cream
Something better. Please?
Soon the sun did the same to their parents,
And the smell, oh well, they couldn’t bear it,
But as consolation, said, Such a shame that such a lovely thing
Can’t do anything.
But the tide will come eventually,
Take it home, of course it will. It’ll be fine.
It’s evolved enough for this.
The whale was grey, as she had been
For her last one hundred years;
As her ancestors had been
For several million more;
Evolved enough she was, indeed, to know
Those animals, they don’t swim well,
And could not help her even if they tried.
And her clan was far away, because they
Were either wiser than she or,
The sun sank down, sky black as cavern innards;
No touch of light scattered throughout the waves.
The whale was grey, just like her song
She sang in spite of cracking lungs—
She shrieked, or so a passer-by might think—
She howled a sound like that of wolves, but heavier and round,
Like a full bunch of black grapes.
She sang it to the sky;
It was like a woman’s sigh,
But emptier than all that air somehow.
She sang it to the sky
As if the clouds might hear
And have mercy, perhaps feed a light rain,
Perhaps a heavy one to send her home again.
The rain heard not; the people did. They heard a
The whale was grey, the size of a
With just as much life that was waning, and fast;
She poured it all into a nameless song.
It rang out like an echo in a canyon.
It cracked the windows that were closed
And drifted through the open panes
And every evolved person heard and could not catch her breath.
Each felt her face grow hot, indignant—felt his eyes alight with sudden tears.
Why oh why does she give so much life?
And we will never ever pay it back.
Dropping into this Friday with the second installment of this ocean-focused series, featuring thoughts on not-explaining the joke, Black Swan, being consumed by creation, and surfing. Poem below in audio and text formats!
He Was the Best Shaper for Miles
So you come to me with your arms full of water,
Which to me says you float
Which to me says hope
But who am I to your Noah’s ark?
Can you call yourself blessed if you’re blind to the dark? Because
I heard that you sleep alone with the lights on.
I heard that you carve like your hands are pure scythe.
I heard that you crave waves like your brothers do,
But I’ve not seen you there,
Never seen that love in you.
So you come to the water with your arms full of promise
Like a bouquet of jasmine spilling over a sigh
Which to me says you’re ready
For something new—but, what?
I heard that you heard voices in the mango tree—
That they told you to go and see
What it would mean to fall
And now you crawl.
What were you doing up there, asked your family.
This we will never speak of, you mumbled,
So of course they ask every day. Their eyes full of water,
They wonder and wander,
While you run off and squander their grace.
Now you cover your eyes
And I don’t know your face.
Water may be one of the most deeply explored topics–worlds, really–in humanity’s humanities. And it’s equally obvious and mysterious why. Yes, we are made of water, we are borne of water, we are sustained by water. Yet it also soothes, and renews, and therein lies much of the mystery.
Some might say there’s really no need to delve into this and explain it, though. It’s the depth and mystery that make it powerful. To an extent, yes, I’d agree.
However, one thing I cannot stop pondering is the divide water presents to each of us. That is, the divide between who we seem to be and who we are. What if, as with any baptism, water purifies us, makes us new beings? “Purer” versions of ourselves? Like the prisoners in Song of Solomon, or Florence Welch in any of her songs?
I wonder. Because there is an honesty that comes from water. It loosens up and bids float what we keep pressed down, hidden, confined in the mind.
And then what? The choice is ours, I suppose. We can choose to take that, and to live in ways that marry these parts of ourselves that would prefer to remain disparate. To embrace steadiness and ease both on shore and in the sea.
Thus this series, which I call Split-Tale Sea. It is a series of poems and stories that explore where water can truly take us–that is, elsewhere, or really, back to ourselves.
Part 1: “When I Was the Moon.” A poem about becoming, and being, and, yes, the moon and the tides. Audio below. Text can be found after that.
When I Was the Moon
Once I was Luna, or one of many, but that
Was midday in the Catskills
Where the redbarn pulsed with heat
And sweet greengrasses combed my feet.
There was nothing to do but love, and be known.
When I was Luna we sang, trilled like birds;
It was lost to the trees,
And the heroic walls of our closet-rooms that shook with the words,
With the weeds.
The gardens were full of fruit,
And my sweat was cleansing to me.
The blooming was incessant and
We were rewarded happily.
Yet when I was Luna there was
Trouble in the plains —
A night when bright flashing bluelights came.
I said I was sorry but
No other moons remained — it was blanketed, dark.
Then a truck choking with diesel
Snatched me from the grass and
A voice inside said Come on, let’s Get you home fast.
What’s your name?
I said I was Diana.
When I was Diana,
It was a bayside night—
And man, I shined so bright
Because there was only neon
And only I knew how to laugh.
It was all that I wanted to do
Because it fought off the time, how it grasps.
And it grasped, and it grabbed,
But I never kept track.
Not even when the ones I trusted squeezed me
Between the cargo hold and lower decks
On a steel beast
And sent me across the mercurial Pacific.
Now they call me Mahina,
Because I am Mahina here,
Where I was born and will be born again,
Where it’s always some shade of morning.
I watch the misty clouds oppress the
Mountaintops, like a warning.
It’s like the foam that overwhelms the waves:
Force respects force. It takes nothing less.
Neither fineness nor affinity nor finesse
Can hope to stand.
They call me Mahina
Because I am not the sun
And I’ll turn like the tides against
Whosoever I damn well please.
I linger onshore, my coffee cup in hand, and
I watch everyone paddle out.
They do it just like it’s an art.
It’s invisible ink—it’s motion—
And you know it stings my heart.
But there is no solace in sadness.
There’s no warmth in weariness,
Nor in the knowledge that the
Sweat of your brow ain’t enough,
Or that I’ll never be so tough
That the pump of my blood could chase away
What wilts within me,
By sending me into the most crippled of waves.
I’ve never been that brave.
They call me Mahina:
I’m curved like a conch, like a shell.
And when I’m out at night,
I glow exceptionally well.
Most of them can always tell
I’ve been there.
But I’m nobody’s satellite—
If I were, I’d have to be able to live and love
Even when it’s dry season and no one fun is around.
I was called Mahina first, long ago,
Before Luna and Diana were ever breathed,
Because my eyes were black.
Those who named me thought it’d change my fate,
Make up for what I lacked.
Draw the stars to you, they said.
So fond, weren’t they, of
Making dark seem deep,
Much as the ocean does to us.
I watch now the silhouettes, so flat
Against the softening sky:
Scrawny boys, thicknecked stout men
Striding across the pimpled rocks.
The sun, falling down, lights them up, halo bright.
Who own that light. Even I,
Daughter of the moon, woman of the tide,
How quick the waters are to flood beyond
How much the currents steal beneath my feet.
But sometimes now I go out when the world is still asleep,
The world that cannot hope to keep me
Tied down, turned around, into someone
I could never hope to be.
I strip and swim alone. I climb onto those eyeteeth rocks.
I peel mangoes with my teeth and tear apart their flesh
And I throw back my head and I laugh and I scoff,
And I say,
The name of this blog has always, to me, been about living in the balance between planning and improvisation—about finding a harmony between practicality and spontaneity. I’m not always good at marrying the two (really, it rarely happens, I fall more into the former camp in both instances), but I’ve seen a lot of magic happen when the two approaches are allowed to exist together, for me and for others.
So I’m using that as justification for attempting to steer this site in a different direction. Only a slightly different one, mind, but I thought doing so deserved a post (assuming, lol, that anyone is reading this).
What is it we are trying to do when we write? What is it we want? To express ourselves? To tell stories? To seek connection, or some semblance of immortality, or something deeper? Or is it all of the above?
Does it matter what avenue we take to sate this craving? And what is the purpose of sharing the words that flow from us? This thing we call the Internet is a bona fide means of doing so every second—a fountain of letters and numbers and words upon words upon words. Why, with this in mind, does anyone write at all?
(and hasn’t that particular question been asked and answered thousands of times?)
There are ideas and thoughts to be shared, to be sure. There is information to be distributed. There are opinions to be stated.
And yet, with all of this filtering out through every paragraph that is displayed on a screen or printed on a page, I find that there is still not enough understanding in the world. Of ourselves, and of one another. Talk of worldly and cultural divides is sort of a daily phenomenon lately. Yet there are, too, many divides within us.
How do we begin to bridge those gaps? It seems an impossible task. Yet there is no shortage of ways, most of them involving, yes, words. Stories. Poetry. Movies. Video. Music. Podcasts. Theatre.
Maybe these outlets are where we go to escape, but they are also where we end up confronted with ourselves, if we are so open to the possibility. This is not a profound idea; it’s probably spoken to much more eloquently at the Oscars and/or in AP English classes. But it’s still valid, and it still means something, and I would like this space to be one that has such purpose and possibility. One that features not only my own work of that nature, but also that of others’, and of their unique perspectives.
Hence this change. I have a renewed certainty that the only enemy in the world is neither the self nor the other, but rather, fear. And when we work to eradicate it, we do more than we realize. We make it possible for new stories to be told, and create a sense of hope and light—of understanding and of possibility.
So, all this is to say: creative hope that navigates the chaos. That’s what I want Mayhaps to mean. Mayhaps it will, sooner than later.