17 September 2017

Novus Mare (Plunge)

The cliff falls away from the Diver, a sheer blur during transit into the deep blue below. Many thoughts light the mind. One gains on the others. What life awaits the Diver plunging into a sea not yet swum? The way to knowing is total immersion. Break the surface, cast off the fear of the unknown. Join the dolphins in the search for life. They may know the way to the Swimmer.

The Swimmer is there, clothed in aquamarine and cobalt swirls of water. A presence unseen but known to the senses. The Diver starts in the depths, with no anxiety of breath. Subsurface swells moving the torso and limbs in limpid gravity, the exhalation of giants. To feel it is to feel the pulse at the throat of the universe. It is an energy thrilling to the core of humanity.

Whales loom out of blue depths. Ultramarine messengers bringing news of the Swimmer, reassuring songs in a prehistoric tongue in understanding is granted through feeling rather than the hearing. The Diver relaxes in a current that draws the body forward. Ahead there is the faint susurrus of water over sand. The shore is close. The whales say the Swimmer is closer.

A surge of current. The backwash of titanic flukes urging the Diver onward. The Swimmer is there. Out of the blue, the Swimmer arabesques to face the Diver, who plunges into waiting arms. They sing the water electric. Tumbling into the quickening flow towards a no longer distant shore.

To cling, to touch, to feel the surge of creation and not of the storm. Intersecting currents as the confluence of love and desire.

This current lifts, pulls, and pushes. The Diver and the Swimmer find themselves rolled up into the curling of a mighty breaker. The wave rushes up the strand. Hippocampi stamp and snort along its leading edge. Their eagerness to break upon the sand mirrors the urgent energy of the Diver and Swimmer, who themselves seem not to notice the swiftly approaching tide line.

The wave breaks. It roars across the sand to curl unto itself while fading to a whisper. Hurried breath, pounding heart while the water trickles over the beach. Foam fades into salty skin. Ragged pulses descend from spume-dusted heights to fade into a syncopated rhythm. Diver and Swimmer alight on the shore with mouths full of song.

Breathing. Close. Entwined. Blood, hot and vital, speaks of a  joining of salt and iron not unlike the sea that birthed them. Slowly, slowly, equilibrium is reached. To know that balance point is to know life. Under the fading sun, the waves turn to indigo and the stars unmask themselves. They deign to caress upturned faces with argentine light.

Diver/Swimmer (their boundaries have softened and merged into fractal harmony) feel the grains of sand on their backs. They breathe in slow time with the surf. This as yet unnamed sea has given them life. It beckons them back with no hurry. They gather breath. The waves carry on, whispering of life anew.

10 September 2017

Fading Memories of the Feast

Chicken and dumplings in the bowl, the aroma wafting up and around Sonny's face. Caressing his cheeks like a lover but he didn't stir. A spoon jutting from his right hand, left hand idly resting on a small dish of collard greens. Staring out the window, through the chipped paint letters, sweet tea sweating in its glass. He got to thinking he was too old to be alone eating collard greens. They were not "good" bitter, anymore, just bitter.

Things taste strange when their roots are ripped from a soil a man no longer recognizes as his own. Sonny dipped his head, took a desultory swipe at the chicken and dumplings. It was good, he reckoned, even with the aftertaste of memories of grandma Annabelle. He often teased Augie Midgett, the owner of the joint, that the chicken and dumplings tasted good "but that ain't how you make it." All the funnier knowing that he, Sonny, rarely could be bothered to make them at all.

Another swipe, another swallow. A shadow fell across the table. It was Margot, the waitress. She held a pitcher of iced tea over Sonny's glass. Angled as if to pour. He met her tired eyes with his own.

"You okay, hon?" she said. "A little more tea?"

Sonny nodded. "I'm tired, Margot. Workin' is wearin' me out, I reckon. But I'm okay." He smiled, but it failed to reach his eyes. Margot looked at him, raised an eyebrow, and topped off his glass.

"You wouldn't be fibbing me, would you?"

"No, ma'am." That grin again. Margot paused, hand on her hip. His own hands twitched with jealousy at the sight. She sighed.

"Aw, now, then you better explain that to those hangdog eyes of yours. I'll let you off with a warning this time, Sonny." She smiled at that last statement, turned and strode over to the server station. Sonny watched her go, admiration layered over sadness and desire.

Sonny looked down the bowl. Still half full, and with an appetite that just took the last bus out of town. He took two more spoonfuls, set it down. He could tell his heart wasn't in it, and by association, neither was his belly.

He raised his head. She chatted with a customer, silhouetted in the dusky sundown light coming through the window. Broken hearts need to eat eventually, Sonny thought. He hoped his would get its appetite back before she found someone else to call her darling. He wanted to know how to be hungry again, and sated.

03 September 2017

On the Saving of A Duck

It was a talent, dubious to be sure, but a talent nonetheless that the old man could find tragedy in a blue sky full of horsetails and cotton candy. Some days he imagined it in the form of daemon, shape shifting as it sat on his shoulder or circled his head while whispering terrible things.

A belly full of oysters put him in mind for a post-prandial stroll down to the dock, just past the waterfront museum. A soothing coolness in the air with a gentle swell upon the water exerted its gravitational pull. The breeze joined in, pushing him gently onto the worn but sturdy boards of the piers. The daemon hovered as the old man watched the clouds drift over the bay. Mercifully, it was quiet.

A few ducks swam lazily around the pilings. The sun dusted white gold upon the water as he chatted with a lad who was crabbing from the pier.

The youngster allowed that the crabs were sparse tonight, but he had caught some good ones. The oldster chuckled, recalling his youthful summer adventures crabbing in the creeks near his boyhood home. Seeing a tension on his line, the boy slowly reeled it in. There in the murky translucence of the water, a medium sook was nibbling away on the bait.

The boy scooped up the female crab, expertly separating crab from bait. The bait, a chicken neck looped in twine, went back out into the water. The crab, said the boy, was going into the basket. He said goodbye and walked down the pier to his stash of gear. Dinner was probably not far away.

The old man leaned against a piling, noting that the moon was visible in the cerulean sky. Boats made their way up and down the creek. Sunlight gilded the tops of their masts. An osprey raised a keening cry from out on its nest in the channel. The old man was contemplating what life must be like living in a pile of sticks on top of a post when he heard a furious flapping and splashing coming from the next pier over. It was a duck. Its wings beat the water in a rush, yet it was unable to move forward or take off.

The duck grew increasingly frantic. The old man stared for a minute or two. He though perhaps the duck was being attacked by a large fish or some other creature, but it did not go under. He reckoned it would not be long, because the duck was in overwhelming distress.

The old man jogged back to the main deck, then cut across and hurried up the other pier. The duck was out at the far end, still thrashing furiously and quacking at high volume. He bent down to look over the edge of the pier.

It was fishing line. An old line left tied to a piling. The hapless duck, a female mallard, was entangled in it by its right foot. From what the old man could see the line was wrapped in a tight helix around the leg. There was no way the duck was going to unwrap it or break the line.

The old man lay down on the deck boards. They smelled of seawater, bait and crab shells. He reached down to grasp the monofilament line and hauled the duck up as gently as he could. The duck was terribly frightened by this. Its thrashing sent a spray of water up into the old man's face. He sputtered and tightened his grip on the line.

He grasped the duck by its leg. It felt like cold leather, and the duck struggled mightily to free itself. He spoke softly to it, telling it things would be okay, just hold on, I'll get you out of this. To the old man's surprise the duck settled down. It barely moved as he held it head down over the water while unwrapping the fishing line from its foot.

There was moment of panic as the line became snagged on what looked like a small spur. The old man hefted the duck up higher and with the precision of surgeon unhooked the line from the spur. The duck spun itself as the line unreeled from the foot. With a tremendous splash, rapid fire quacking, and a blur of wings it launched itself across the open water between the piers. It came to rest a few yards away from the old man. It began flapping its wings, quacking and acting as if nothing had happened.

The old man stood up. He wiped his hands on his pants and brushed flecks of wood and dried bait from his shirtfront. It was an unexpected turn of events, after dinner on an evening by the summer bay, that turned his mind over to the sea. 

He looked up again at the blue sky, the moon, the drifting boats. It was a talent, he knew, to find tragedy in a sky of cotton candy and horsetails. But not tonight. Tonight he had found grace in the saving of a duck. Cotton candy and horsetails never looked better.

27 August 2017

In the Drowning Clouds

Her voice carried over the cacophony of ducks swarming the end of the marina. There were tears in it, raspy and liquid. At the sound of it, Jackie turned his head slightly to see from whom it came.

"I'm sorry," she had said following it with another sniffle. She was staring up at the youngish man standing in front of her. Jackie couldn't see his face, but could tell the jaw was working. The man had his arms hanging with a slight bent. No fists, exactly, but fingers flexing.

Jackie sipped the iced tea he held cradled in his hands. The woman raised her hands to her head, forming an inverted 'u' with with she swept her hair back to clutch it in a bun. Jackie's heart lurched. Goddamnit she was pretty he thought, never mind the tear tracks silvering her cheeks. Sputtering into his tea, he forced himself to look slightly past her so she would not think he was staring.

But he was. He long ago had mastered the art of observation without flagrancy.

The man said something to her Jackie couldn't catch. The wind was up and the ducks chose that moment to burst out quacking en masse, for all the world sounding like laughter. It took all of his self-control to not leap to the concrete wall and shoo them all off. In Jackie's mind, ducks had never been good at eavesdropping.

He risked another glance. Her mouth has dropped open, her arms following suit as they fell to her sides. Her expression balanced itself on that knife edge between shock and incredulous anger. Something in her eyes told Jackie she was feeling gutpunched with no way to respond. The man kept talking, hands moving a little faster now. They were, Jackie noticed, shaking quite a bit.

She shook her head. He heard something that sounded like "God's plan" and "for a purpose", but a powerboat was making its way up the marina cove. The low chugging of its motors blotted out more. Jackie took another sip of tea. She continued to stare at the man, crestfallen and fading. Her eyes were growing shinier. 

Little crescents of liquid welled up at the bottoms. She shook her head in response to whatever the man was saying. Dark blots spattered her blouse. Jackie instinctively reached to his shirt pocket thinking to grab a tissue, then realized how odd that might appear if she noticed. He kept his hand going and casually brushed back his hair.

The sky was growing heavy. Clouds the color of bright lead rolled in carrying a faint scent of rain and ozone. The water in the cove had a miniature chop on it, wavelets caroming back and forth between the walls. The powerboat had gone silent. Two men were securing it to pilings across the cove, tying up in front of the dockside bar where some intrepid souls appeared to be getting a head start on the weekend. Full tables festooned with bottles and glasses.

Jackie swallowed more tea. Looking over the woman's shoulder, he felt a pang and flutter of zombie memories. His drinking days were over, too bad he couldn't quite forget. The look of anguish on her face had him wishing he could crack the seal in a search for the cure for pain.

She was crying openly now, but quiet. He heard the wet intake of breath as a counterpoint to the laughter of the ducks. Her head swept back and forth. Twisting lips mouthing "no, no, no" as her companion continued to talk. The man reached out and took her by the upper arms. The woman had raised her face to the man. The expression on her face was cryptic. Jackie saw anger, mixed with a bit of fear.

Jackie stood up, setting his cup down on the concrete wall of the planter. The situation gave him a shiver of dread. He hoped they were just arguing, but one could never be sure. All the time he spent down here, among the tourists and the locals strolling blithely eating their ice cream or fiddling with cameras, he had witnessed too many breakups and temper tantrums. People could be so ugly to each other, and Jackie wished he could unwind them all.

The woman slapped the man's hands away from her arms. The man stepped back half a pace, genuinely shocked Jackie could see now as he moved closer to the two. The woman's eyes blazed as she loudly said "Then go. Just go! Maybe you can numb yourself with that bullshit, but I can't. I won't!"

Jackie felt the anger radiating off of her, even at distance. The man took another step back as if the anger was a force field. Jackie saw now that the man had been crying too. Flushed cheeks and red eyes bordered by a drawn and haggard face. He looked tired in the bone, while she stood there, hands on hips with tears drying up on her face and glaring. 

He turned away from her and towards Jackie, looking right through him. The man began walking back up towards the head of the cove. His face suddenly sagged and he stopped walking. Turning back to the woman, not five feet away from Jackie, he nearly shouted at her.

"Don't you see, Magda? Don't you see that you are broken? Why don't you believe me when I say that it is in your brokenness that God often uses you the most!"

Jackie looked from the man to Magda. He made no attempt now to hide the fact that he was watching. Few others appeared to notice, only a few side glances from the tourists and boat crews. The look on Magda's face transformed from hard to furious. She was shaking when she shouted.

"Adam, any God that would let our babies die for being born too early has no right to use me for anything! Why don't you see THAT?"

Passers-by stopped, stunned at what they just heard. Jackie froze, dizzy. He could not believe his ears. Memories rushing out of the dark sump in the bottom of his mind. Nightmare glimpses of the machines failing his own children, tiny, frail, too sick to live. He swallowed bile past the bulge in his throat and forced himself to look to Adam. 

Adam stood, swaying as if he were about to faint. He was panting. He shook his head, realizing he was now the center of attention. His mouth open and closed, a beached fish on the hot bricks of the promenade. An anguished groan burst forth, then he spun on his left heel and hurriedly walked away from the scene. Jackie watched his back recede up the hill and into the crowd milling about at the foot of Main Street. The small knot of onlookers dispersed, perhaps plunging back into their own thoughts of crabs and beer.

Turning around, he saw the woman had collapsed onto a nearby bench. She sat staring straight ahead while cradling her elbows in her hands. The pain was near visible, magnetic, a corona of grief in Jackie's eyes. He walked slowly as a hunter trying not to scare off quarry. At the end of the bench, he stopped.

Magda turned to look at him. Gray eyes clear as crystal and hardened with pain. She blinked slowly. Behind the hardness flickered a low curiosity. Jackie swallowed before speaking.

"I'm...sorry. So sorry. I overheard..."

She looked at him again, tears running slowly down her face. At his words, her eyes softened.

"It's okay, thank you. For being sorry."

There was a heartbeat or two of silence. Magda looked up the street, eyes narrowing. Jackie turned to look, and could see Adam about to turn a corner and go out of sight.

Magda said, low and hoarse, "I just wish he was, too." She leaned her head back, eyes closed, letting a deep sigh rush from her lungs. Her eyes opened. She stared up into the darkening clouds and said "And I wish He was, too."

The emphatic weariness and pain in her voice jolted Jackie. He looked up, following her gaze. The clouds roiled and glowered, rain began to fall in fat drops. He would not swear to it, but for a split second he thought he saw a face vanishing back into the pewter mist of the downpour.

He looked back down. Magda sat there, shivering, blank-eyed. From his back pocket he took out and unfurled the umbrella he had been carrying. "May I join you?"

She nodded. He sat. Drops beat a ragged tattoo on the umbrella as they both searched the sky, looking for that face. Behind them, the ducks cackled and quacked, laughing in spite of the rain.