Posts Tagged 'sea'

Sailing

I was alone for 15 years or so, alone the way we are when we are not children. How is alone now, what is the shape of alone, do you know? I shook a stick once at alone and it hissed back at me, a snake, a goose, a small cat with big green eyes. I have shaken my solitude so hard that all of its fruit fell to the ground and lay there fallow, lay there unseen for year after year. Little nuggets of solitude, little nuggets of loneliness, they lie there in an orchard, an orchard of past stories, stories from before the travels that took me away, away from hearth, from home.

I left in the winter of my 15th year, as is traditional. I rode a small horse with a fine Arabian head. Not the horse of the nobility, nonetheless a horse that suggested connections. I might be an important bastard, said the horse, I might be a well placed clerk in a prosperous, powerful and dangerous religion. Religion being, then as now, a dangerous and dishonest pursuit, was very appealing to second sons. I might have been a second son, that was generally agreed upon, or a bastard, again, that also was agreed upon. 

I left in the winter of my 15th year, leaving my lady and my lord in disguise, to travel and claim a kingdom for my own in lands far away. Once taken, I would return to tell the king and queen, my mother and father, about my acquisition, and then they would name me heir and bond me and mine forever to them, in spite of my bastard status, in spite of my feminine nature, in spite of my brother, the king’s first son, who was more of a bastard than I was ever likely to be. In spite of his mother and father’s marital status.

I left in the winter of my 15th year, as is traditional, riding my horse with my man to the edge of the sea, where I left both and boarded a ship with an uncle, who agreed to allow me on board as long as the secret was kept, but who could not guarantee my safety if ever all was discovered. This uncle was a first cousin to my mother, a man named Thomas Wilcomb, and he let me onboard at some personal risk. I came aboard as first boy, and looked after his parrot, kept his books, and ran away as soon as ever  I could, so that I might seek my own fortune, and not simply add to his.

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Woman with a wandering eye

blonde-lady

There in the firelight sits a man, a dog, a chunk of meat and a knife. On the wall is a florid oil painting of a peacock walking across a garden, while a pale lady in a silk gown with a dangerously low bodice, wearing piles of yellow curls, sits on an ornate bench, holding her pekingese in her lap.

The man is drinking something: ale, if he’s been working with his men out on the moors; red wine, if he has guests of the more refined variety. But no, he’s got a chunk of meat and a knife. Let’s give him some crusted bread and devonshire cheese while we are at it. His complexion just got a bit higher, and one notices that the pale lady in the portrait appears to be looking at something over a low hedge: the gardener, is it? He’s a fine rustic lad, with a simple name, like Thomas or young Will. She’s looking at him over the hedge, while the pekingese is staring off the canvas at the meat lit up by the firelight.

The man and his ancestors have been in this home with its drafts, its wet stone walls, its brocades and warming pans, for over 400 years. This man, like others of his line, craved travel in his youth. He was the first of his people to travel across the ocean to the wild open west, the muddy roads, the rutted wagon trails. He was the first to break a palomino on the open range, the first to trade in furs and leathers and strange stories sent back across the wide seas. His letters to his father, who was staying in Constantinople with his second wife, were full of lies, and had more of truth hidden in them than he wanted his father to know. His mother, she of the pale hair and the lusting eye, was gone by then. She’d died of a fever one year when the garden was neglected, and the fruit trees had a late cold snap in May. The gardener was found leaning against a wall, dead of a bee sting, according to the parish doctor.

The man’s name is William, after all the Williams in their long line, and his eyes are not a pale hesitant blue like his mother, or a distracted grey, like his father. His eyes are green, the green of seas with warm currents, the green of coastal treasures, the green his descendants would see in the land beneath them 400 years later as they flew over New Zealand, or Brazil, or the western coast of Canada. Green turns to blue and then wanders out into the ocean, where sailors have travelled months at a time to reach the islands of tropical dreaming. The man’s name is William, he of a long line of Williams from chilly lands who have travelled the world in their younger days for hundreds of years. They have travelled to green islands and warm countries: palm trees, coconuts, lava flows, rice fields, machetes, oxen. All things foreign in a world spinning and gradually growing smaller, slower and coming to a resting place.

The pale woman’s descendants travel the world now on thin, light titanium bikes, wearing clothes that wick away moisture, and meals in tubes. They, too, love ale, all her green-eyed daughters, grand-daughters and great great grand-daughters, their friends and lovers. All of them love adventure, and slobbery dogs and frisbees, and all of them love the feeling of otherness that carries them in their strong female bodies through places where the fair-skinned woman with yellow curls and her pekingese were never able to go. And all of the woman’s sons and grand sons and great grand sons keep going back to their place by the fire, century after century, to their ancestral hall, and wait for the women to come home.

Gramma and Grampa retire

rocker

Gramma’s rocking chair was a Sears and Roebuck, not old enough or nice enough to be a proper antique. She got it when grampa retired, telling him “That’s it, old man, if you’re retired, then I am too.” That was in 1992. She wasn’t even 65 yet, but she had no intention of increasing her workload by the number of hours he would now be home getting under foot.

They sat there in their living room for a year, gramma in her rocking chair, grampa in his sectional recliner, staring out at their big screen TV, daring each other to say one wrong thing.

After a year of going out to Burger King for a breakfast biscuit and then making himself a ham sandwich with chips for lunch every day, grampa decided he might learn to cook. He set the TV in the kitchen to the food network and started in with salads and omelettes and fish papillote.

Gramma bought a computer and started playing the stock market. Then they thought they’d mess around in real estate, and then they got richer than rich. They got richer than any of their kids, any of their neighbors, any of their fishing buddies. Money sweetened gramma’s temperament considerably, and made grampa better looking. They both lost weight, and when they died last year in a boating accident in Hawaii, they were looking great. Absolutely fantastic.

luxury-yacht

Insomnia Island

island

Then it was August and I was tired. It was the heat, or it was the ghosts. I sleep with the ghosts. This is a kind of insomnia. What is it about ghosts that threaten the sleep? I think I know the answer – they live in no time, measure no intervals, and live in a continual present. — postcard from home

Martha was insomniac and did her best thinking while neither asleep nor awake. She said sometimes to Maria that it would have been better if she’d invited lepers into the house, more socially acceptable.

“I brought a leper into my house,” she said to Maria one morning, after she’d been not sleeping for a week or more and the ghosts had been having an especially exuberant period. Her skin was bright white, and her eyes shining – she was in one of the interludes of calm brilliance that prolonged sleeping or not with ghosts seems to bring on.

“Belladonna makes the eyes bright, doesn’t it?” said Maria, looking at Martha and wondering again how to make her sleep.

“Belladonna means beautiful lady – does that make the eyes bright?” Martha said in response, and she smiled again with that sharp, shattered look, and the two of them decided silently, together, to go somewhere else, to leave the ghosts behind for a week or two, or until Martha slept an entire night through. They packed their gear and their soft camping clothes and they went to her happy island, where ghosts may not enter, and there they stayed for almost one month.

Now it is September, and I’ve been sleeping for one week. There are no ghosts, there are no mosquitos, there are no questions in my sleeping mind. Sometimes I see shadows in the corner, but when I turn and look, these are usually animals, the ordinary, evasive animals of island life. A gecko, a gull, a small mammal with little feet like hands that looks at me curiously and leaves if I stare too long. Maria has brought me pineapple and mango and fish, and we’ve cooked and slept and dreamed, and there are no ghosts, no lepers, no forbidden spirits to enter our resting place on this bright white beach. This morning I walked into the shallow blue water farther and farther away from the shore, and I could see every shell, every bit of sand, and my ankles are warm in the water. I turned around and looked behind me, and there she is, waiting for me like I’m a sailor coming home from the sea. — postcard from Insomnia Island

At the end of the month, they went back home. Martha got brave, taking a few risks every day, reading and talking and watching whatever she wanted, and the ghosts did not come back, and the lepers stayed away from the door, and the sun when it shone through the bedroom window found them both sleeping, each with one leg hanging out of the sheets in the cool early morning air.

Bark howl squeak

I am a frightened dog. Have you ever seen a frightened dog?

The frightened dog is a frightened man-bear. The frightened dog will pee himself or bite you. The frightened dog will hide behind a blanket, a curtain, between your legs, or in the doorway that connects your kitchen and your dining room.

The frightened dog is an uncertain equation. I am a frightened dog. What should I do?

Being, as I am, a frightened dog, I feel naked, defenseless and – I don’t know – shocked. Like I’ve been strapped in a test car moving through an electric landscape, and the test is me, how well I will survive strapped in and shooting through the desertscape in the hot sun. I imagine me, my heart, my heart racing through and somehow escaping from sage and tumble into a wide open highway, hurtling over it with heart pounding bright and red until suddenly there is a stop and rest and water. This is a moment of respite from being a frightened dog, and I am starting to think again, about bookstores and libraries and word-landia, where being as I am is not necessarily a shock to someone’s system. Knowing that I will eventually be sucked back again onto that road.

I am not really a frightened dog, am I? No one ever really stopped the car and said get out, get out now and threw rocks at me. Stupid dog. I am more like a frightened idea, like a frightened idea of someone or some beast not sure where to go as the landscape breathes, a pattern of expand and contract, less of some things and so much, too much, of others.

No one ever really stopped the car and told me to get out. Not really. What they did, what they did and what left me wandering in full sun in the desert sage and willow was me, little creature, naked, more naked than any bluejay’s imaginings, and I am a child/bear/dog/coyote/man boy, masked and mystified by my own arrival, 7 days gone, on a beach in Baja, where my nakedness is more apparent. There is a low set of waves foaming at beach edge. There is a set of low waves lapping and licking at my naked toes and my appreciation of warm blue water. The water is warm and blue with little foam tongues, and I am a naked boy child walking in the tide until my ankles say that is enough. That is enough for little ones; tide coming in is fine, tide going out is danger.

I am wrapped in a towel, in a large yellow towel with a pattern of trailing red roses along the borders. The towel swallows me up. Inside it, I can hear beach voices – radio, seagull, human voice washing in and out rhythmically, smoothly. The waves recede, the voices rise.

The voices of humans rise as the tide recedes. Little shells with air pock the surface as water runs away. There are crabs and sand holes and apologists in the wet sand on the beach where later we will lie still, full of sandwiches and fruit. The crabs will march unoffended a few mere feet away. I wave at them, absent-mindedly. I imagine that they are waving back, grateful that there is room for some crustaceans here on the white washed sand. I whistle; somewhere, a crab steams and screams like an oncoming locomotive.

There is no chance of boarding the wrong train here, I think, and sit down one bench seat away from a man clutching a small cage, inside of which is a pink-eyed rat who watches me carefully, hopefully.

At the intersection

© Teresa Valle 2006

I. Making change

Keep it in your pocket.
Give it to the men who hold signs in exhaust.
Give it to the barista with the plump little belly, the bright nose ring.

Change happens during coagulation, the altering of blood from liquid
to solid. A settling of substance, the end result a state of no change.
During circulation, the end result is no end result, end process only,
a flowing away of substance; never stops leaving,
never finishes arriving.

The biological definition of life is irritability.
If you poke it with a stick and it responds, it must be alive.

Curmudgeonly, the living. In a continual state of reaction and withdrawal.
Tidal.  Moonscape shows the blue-lit octopus waving his tentacles,
restless and resting, reaching, grabbing, sucking      exclamation points declaiming
alive alive alive      into the deep blue deep blue below

foggy eyes move past, bubbles
rise and sing and gasp

            Luke, I’m your father. Down on his knees, Luke crying
            Jesus fucking Christ I am alive and it hurts, old dad

           But old dad just keeps on wheezing, deeper and darker, colder
           than obsidian.           What a terrible risk it is

to be alive, what a terrible risk we say, and imagine a cold old
Davy Jones and the breathless beyond. We are sure
            somehow      that the unreachable unknowable is more
desirable than here where we struggle for air.

II. Evolution

Imagine that you are on your knees praying       day and night       except 
when working at your job,      scrubbing the toilet,      weeding
your garden,      washing your children,      taking your lover in
your mouth.     One day it occurs to you that

your life revolves around genuflection
bowing and scraping and breathing for release.  A remembrance of waves
washes by one day and draws you back into the deep.  The sound of air
calls a song from over-yonder and that reminds you
          somehow
of your grandpa and his mean-spirited lay gospel.  You imagine him
in the great beyond and it seems to have surprised him.  He’s wearing

nice clothes,    but    half the Beach Boys are there with him,
and lots of old blue-black blues men, and he’s pretty sure
there was supposed to be two heavens, one for white folks,
one for coloreds.    But    even before he passed he noticed
it was getting harder to tell exactly what color some folks
was, and it’s possible that that great great grandma of his mighta
been more colored than Indian,    so    maybe there was

   separate heavens, and he’d gotten assigned according to lineage,
the begettings and begottens of  a long family. He starts to think
 about evolution and himself as  half-man, half crocodile. This makes him
smile; he pats his own arms and belly,
looking for scales, or feathers, or something that says

man, here, is part of a continuum, not a settling of accounts, not
an end point.    But      patting his pocket he finds some
change      a few quarters, a nickel with an unfamiliar profile.
III. At the intersection

He sits for a long time on a log in a quiet place that smells of
swamp and a faint sea breath, playing with the coins, flipping
    head tail head head tail tail head    smoothing them
warm with thumb and forefinger.          Eventually, the sun goes down and he gets up, walks away from the log,
toward the sea breeze and the little patch of star-sky out over there.
He believes at last in evolution, and finally he is not irritable
   at all.

the sun goes down and he gets up, walks away from the log,
toward the sea breeze and the little patch of star-sky out over there.
He believes at last in evolution, and finally he is not irritable
   at all.
the sun goes down and he gets up, walks away from the log,
toward the sea breeze and the little patch of star-sky out over there.
He believes at last in evolution, and finally he is not irritable
   at all.

 


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