The Tale

I once lived in a landlocked town in a house on the edge of the woods,
xxnear a stagnant pond or two, grass up to my waist.

I would thirst for rain, oceans distilled; I would stand in the squall,
xxand let rain blow in gusts like waves on my face;

raindrops trickled down my neck; I burst, skin wrinkled,
xxcotyledon sprouting; I soaked in the rain like a wick;

repelled its beads like wax;
xxallowed my skin to sing, staccato.

I dreamed of waves murderous, amniotic, disgorging aquatic fetuses
xxingesting children

of the land; I wandered in search of water, the femur of an
xxambulocetus to guide me.

Though rain courses through my hair, into my ears, like a lover’s fingers,
xxI am no vessel for the rain.

I am fluent: the river in my father’s name,
xxthe flood in my mother’s.

I pour myself into the river, into
xxthe ocean I have crossed many times, each journey, a life.

My lives cross over, paths recombinant. I swim in any skin:
xxthe selkie’s pinniped pelt, the weaver maiden’s skein;

I will not be stolen by lovers. I walk by day and swim by night.
xxI do not trade my voice

for the privilege of walking on land. Listen,
xxhear me sing: Once, once, once upon a wave….

More than a lover, I’m a chambered nautilus from deep to shallow,
xxshallow to deep.

I swim in waters of plasma, waters of dancing cilia,
xxionic waters.

I swim through the pores of sponges, through the baleen of whales.
xxFrom the viscera of transparent fish,

I see vents teeming with edible sulphur-–I read what earth divulges.
xxI ride the deep sea conveyor of salt.

Under glaciers and ice floes, salt flows unfrozen, a low cycle, a thousand
xxyears, a moving museum.

I harvest from the incessant salt mill of the sea: memory–-
xxan orange jacket my friend remembers,

but nothing of a boat drifting for days without water.
xxTreasure jettisoned, unmarked in low tide.

I swim to escape memories,
xxlike a child who doesn’t believe

rays of the sun can sear her flesh;
xxlike a brush on a snare drum,

like airy echoes in the empty palace
xxof a conch,

to escape my lover, who mistook the ocean before him
xxfor a tract of land bounded by language

and treaties inscribed by war.
xxI am rock turned into woman.

I am a woman who swims like water.
xxI swim towards guyots of friendship,

constants in the constant drift. I feed rich
xxupwelling with no intention but the warmth in my body,

light with nothing to light upon,
xxlove intransitive. I hide

my many selves in a shoal.
xxI seem to swim within reach of the man I once loved.

He is blinded by the glint of ten thousand fins,
xxand sets fire to the surface of the sea.

I hold my breath and dive under.
xxThere are gills on my jaws. I have almost forgotten

my tears do not alter the ocean.
xxThere is salt enough. Listen,

listen to the ocean’s lilting lullaby:
xxstray this-a-way, sway, sway….

I return to land and bear the pain
xxof splitting my tail in two:

I birth myself at the mouth of a cenote,
xxamong the roots of mangroves

among blind
xxfish who do not see me,

though they taste the bleeding
xxbetween my legs;

they live in a maze of tunnels:
xxsome dead ends, others entrances to the sea.

I rise towards land–-by land, I mean what is covered by air,
xxnot water. I pluck mangrove leaves

I suckle for salt, and set off
xxon moonlit limestone paths.

Leaves quake in the wind like fish scales.
xxMy legs keep time in bold strides.

I splash in a lake with a new friend.
xxIn the rarefied mountain air, we race to a buoy.

I laugh as he sputters and spins in place.
xxHe gasps for help. I tow him

a few strokes, till I can stand again.
xxIn the man-made lake, calm, elevated,

in fresh water and transported sand,
xxthere are bottled fears of pirates.

I have walked enough to know
xxthere are some who do not translate

ferns to sea fans, waves to wide-eyed dreams;
xxsome who do not see

grass drifts in rivers as it does in wind;
xxsome who do not believe the prophecies

of the shape-shifting sea: all we pour in
xxreturns as wind, rain, and absence.

I say, only listen: the riffle of wind on water
xxis the riffle of wind

on water is the riffle, the riffle….