I once lived in a landlocked town in a house on the edge of the woods,
near a stagnant pond or two, grass up to my waist.
I would thirst for rain, oceans distilled; I would stand in the squall,
and let rain blow in gusts like waves on my face;
raindrops trickled down my neck; I burst, skin wrinkled,
cotyledon sprouting; I soaked in the rain like a wick;
repelled its beads like wax;
allowed my skin to sing, staccato.
I dreamed of waves murderous, amniotic, disgorging aquatic fetuses
of the land; I wandered in search of water, the femur of an
ambulocetus to guide me.
Though rain courses through my hair, into my ears, like a lover’s fingers,
I am no vessel for the rain.
I am fluent: the river in my father’s name,
the flood in my mother’s.
I pour myself into the river, into
the ocean I have crossed many times, each journey, a life.
My lives cross over, paths recombinant. I swim in any skin:
the selkie’s pinniped pelt, the weaver maiden’s skein;
I will not be stolen by lovers. I walk by day and swim by night.
I do not trade my voice
for the privilege of walking on land. Listen,
hear me sing: Once, once, once upon a wave….
More than a lover, I’m a chambered nautilus from deep to shallow,
shallow to deep.
I swim in waters of plasma, waters of dancing cilia,
I swim through the pores of sponges, through the baleen of whales.
From the viscera of transparent fish,
I see vents teeming with edible sulphur-–I read what earth divulges.
I ride the deep sea conveyor of salt.
Under glaciers and ice floes, salt flows unfrozen, a low cycle, a thousand
years, a moving museum.
I harvest from the incessant salt mill of the sea: memory–-
an orange jacket my friend remembers,
but nothing of a boat drifting for days without water.
Treasure jettisoned, unmarked in low tide.
I swim to escape memories,
like a child who doesn’t believe
rays of the sun can sear her flesh;
like a brush on a snare drum,
like airy echoes in the empty palace
of a conch,
to escape my lover, who mistook the ocean before him
for a tract of land bounded by language
and treaties inscribed by war.
I am rock turned into woman.
I am a woman who swims like water.
I swim towards guyots of friendship,
constants in the constant drift. I feed rich
upwelling with no intention but the warmth in my body,
light with nothing to light upon,
love intransitive. I hide
my many selves in a shoal.
I seem to swim within reach of the man I once loved.
He is blinded by the glint of ten thousand fins,
and sets fire to the surface of the sea.
I hold my breath and dive under.
There are gills on my jaws. I have almost forgotten
my tears do not alter the ocean.
There is salt enough. Listen,
listen to the ocean’s lilting lullaby:
stray this-a-way, sway, sway….
I return to land and bear the pain
of splitting my tail in two:
I birth myself at the mouth of a cenote,
among the roots of mangroves
fish who do not see me,
though they taste the bleeding
between my legs;
they live in a maze of tunnels:
some dead ends, others entrances to the sea.
I rise towards land–-by land, I mean what is covered by air,
not water. I pluck mangrove leaves
I suckle for salt, and set off
on moonlit limestone paths.
Leaves quake in the wind like fish scales.
My legs keep time in bold strides.
I splash in a lake with a new friend.
In the rarefied mountain air, we race to a buoy.
I laugh as he sputters and spins in place.
He gasps for help. I tow him
a few strokes, till I can stand again.
In the man-made lake, calm, elevated,
in fresh water and transported sand,
there are bottled fears of pirates.
I have walked enough to know
there are some who do not translate
ferns to sea fans, waves to wide-eyed dreams;
some who do not see
grass drifts in rivers as it does in wind;
some who do not believe the prophecies
of the shape-shifting sea: all we pour in
returns as wind, rain, and absence.
I say, only listen: the riffle of wind on water
is the riffle of wind
on water is the riffle, the riffle….