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,
I’m the moon. Be near me.