Voyages from I to Thou.

Location: Skellig Michel, Ireland

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Siren (Jan. 19, 2005)

The Liber Monstrorum warns that
the sirens distract ships with their song,
"and they are most like human beings
from the head to the navel, with the body
of a maiden, but have scaly fish's tails,
with which they lurk in the sea."

-- Clara Strijbsoch, The Seafaring Saint:
Sources and Analogues of the 12th
Century "Voyage of St. Brendan"

Halving goddess, you are
my dream's reflection and
depth, the blue-boned nacre
of devil sweetness
inside all song. All my
errors I commend to you,
my pure white sails
furled by the God
stilled and limp
before your risings
oh so dripping with
unknowns. What course
is not foiled by the swell
of breasts inside the
wave which breaks
and pounds on that
shore over there,
the one not found
on any map, in
regions beyond
all Christian pour?
Gold cargo and
more golden ports
are both forgotten
in the pearled silver
of your voice,
your words not
spoken in any day
I've live, nor
read in any
text above the wave.
They gleam and
shimmer like gems
set in scales
which flash and
then are gone. Listen
to that singing at
your dry peril
O masthead scout:
doze there and
it's hair nose &
eyeballs in one
long scream into
the soak & the silent
aria of drifting down
the miles to the bed
that gathers lovers
in a mile-wide embrace,
matressed by a
loam of bones.
Is that the measure
of your wild beyond,
a waist of song
between one kiss
and all abyss? Or
is such praise too
unsalted for your tongue
for which music
is blue labia, the
slick quench of
sucking cunt harrowing
my ears into wilder
dreadful rooms below?
What is that sound aft
of this daily jaunt
across the verbal blue,
a sound which can't
be bedded here but
only flung in mist?
A swell of milky nipples,
the smile which melts
down to alloyed hell?
Who knows; the song
has sounded where I
swore it belled,
silent as an
otherworldly buoy.
Thank God (I think)
I sail on. But now
what surf do I hear
crashing ahead? And
that voice -- almost a girl's --

Sonnets to Orpheus 1.2 (Rilke)

And it was almost a girl and came to be
out of this single joy of song and lyre
and through her green veils shone forth radiantly
and made herself a bed inside my ear.

And slept there. And her sleep was everything:
the awesome trees, the distances I had felt
so deeply that I could touch them, meadows in spring:
all wonders that had ever seized my heart.

She slept the world. Singing god, how was that first
sleep so perfect that she had no desire
ever to wake? See: she arose and slept.

Where is her death now? Ah, will you discover
this theme before your song consumes itself?--
Where is she vanishing? ... A girl almost ....

-- transl. Stephen Mitchell

On the Bridge

I went by myself across the long bridge. The tide was rising and the sea seemed very close to me as I fought my way over against the wind. It was impossible to face the wind and breathe. For some moments it was impossible to walk. My ears were buffeted, my eyes streamed and the hard sand from the beaches cut the skin of my face and hands like miniature shot. Out of the confusion of sound, in the darkness, as I leaned with my back on the wind to rest, I thought I could sometimes distinguish the rise and fall of music, slow, like a pibroch, and sometimes I heard rocks tumbling heavily down. But nothing was clear. It was hard to distinguish the wind from the sea, and at the far side it was impossible to know where the sea ended and the land of South Uist began below the bridge.

--David Thompson, The People of the Sea: A Journey in Search of the Seal Legend

The Fish-Woman

Oran may may have already been on the Isle of the Druids when Columba and his 12 companions arrived in 563 A.D. to found the Abbey of Iona.

At first, the abbey construction fares badly. Each day's work is leveled overnight by some disturbed spirit. Columba sets up a watch to observe what happens at night, but each person set to the task is found dead the next day amid the fallen timbers.

Columba decides to do the vigil himself and sits alone at the site in the howling cold dark. In the middle of the night, a great and terrible being in the shape of a half-woman, half-fish comes to Columba from the surrounding waters. Columba asks the apparition what is repelling his efforts to build at Iona and the fish-woman says she does not know, but that it would continue to happen until one of his men offered themselves to be buried alive in a grave seven times as deep as a man's length.

Lots are cast and Oran is chosen (other accounts say he volunteered) and he lay down in the footers and was buried. No wind rises up that night to spoil the work and the construction proceeds without incident.

After three days and nights Columba became curious to know how his follower had fared and ordered him dug up. The monks excavate the spot where Oran had been sacrificed, finally uncovering his face. Oran's eyes pop open, and staring right at Columba he declares, "There is no wonder in death, and hell is not as it is reported. In fact, the way you think it is is not the way it is at all." Horrified, the saint had Oran buried again at all haste, crying "Uir! Uir! air beul Odhrain" or "Earth, earth on Oran's mouth!" (The saying "chaidh uir air suil Odhrain" or "Earth went over Oran's eye" is still widely heard in the Highlands and Hebrides.

Despite the frightful encounter, Columba dedicated the monestary's graveyard to Oran (Reilig Odhrain) and honored Oran's sacrifice by saying that no man may access the angels of Iona but through Oran. The bones of many Scottish, Irish and Norwegian kings were sent to Oran's graveyard; Duncan and Macbeth are interred in the St. Oran chapel at the center of the graveyard.

Salty Grammar (Dec. 2003)

I am her berry O-mouth,
her silvering tongue,
blue grammarian
of the salt-tiding blue:
I turned and touched
her on some foreign
night, and she began
to sing, up from
the throat of my
every heaven-flung
nerve. Sing she did,
ever louder as
some woman smiled
and bid me mount
and ride wave
dazzle to the moon,
each foaming plunge
a construct of
arch and ache,
each stout article
of my faith
received in her
voweled sighs, her
Os and Ahs,
her sibilant, soft
Yes ... And so she
wrote her blue flamelets
down in the burning
book whose leaves
were torn from my
mind and heart and
balls; wrote them
down loin for line
in a wavelike sine
from one white startle
to the next, bed
to bed a voyage
like ravening, her
thirst the moon
hung high in the
window, gleaming
one white road
through all that
blackening blue.
She wrote the story
down and called
it my life, a
saltier hagiography
than I would choose
to write, but hey!
I am just the
hand in her
transcribing the
next song, dipping
this pen into
her dark and then
scratching for a while.
She works out the
genitives, the syntax
and style of the
tale told so. My job
is just to chord
the mordents and
mellifluents of
her faux-angelic ire,
a vocalissimus
of beachside wonder
one poem short
of the surf's one choir.

Changeling from a Drowned Country

In an anecdote of Colum Cille in "Sancti Columbae Hiensis cum Mongano Heroe Colloquium" (ed. Grossjean), a mysterious youth appears from his own experience. The youth describes the prosperous country which the lake has covered, and says that he has at various times been a deer, a salmon, a seal, a wolf, and a man. Carney: "The mysterious youth came to be identified with Mongan mac Fiachna, but I would suggest tentatively that in the original composer's mind, although preserved without identification, he probably came out of the water and may have been a manifestation of Manannan Mac Lir.

From "The Third Duino Elegy" (Rilke)

It is one thing to sing the beloved. Another, alas,
to invoke that hidden, guilty river-god of the blood.
Her young lover, whom she knows from far away -- what does he know of
the lord of desire who often, up from the depths of his solitude,
even before she could soothe him, and as though she didn't exist,
held up his head, ah, dripping with the unknown,
erect, and summoned the night to an endless uproar.
Oh the Neptune in our blood, with his appalling trident.
Oh the dark wind from his breast out of that spiralled conch.
Listen to the night as it makes itself hollow. O stars,
isn't it form you that the lover's desire for the face
of his beloved arises? Doesn't his secret insight
into her pure features come from the pure constellations? ...

-- transl. Stephen Mitchell

Kirsteen M'Urich

We are also told by MacLeod of Black Angus, a huge black seal who cursed Colum "the White" in the fine heathen Gaelic of the Picts and Northmen and mocked the saint's clerical white garb. But then, the seal-man did a puzzling thing: he asked Columba for the whereabouts of his wife and daughter. Columba later asked one of his fellow monks about Kirsteen M'Urich, and the monk replies that she was a servant of Christ in the south isles until Black Angus won her to the sea a thousand years ago. She became "the woman that weaves the sea spells at the wild place out yonder that is known as Earraid: she is called the sea-witch; she is Adam's first wife (Lilith); and Angus's soul is Judas.

Beauty of Women

Li Ban, "Beauty of Women," a daughter of the king, Eochu, from whom the lake was named, survived beneath the lake as a kind of mermaid, half-woman, half-fish. In this form she lived for hundreds of years until Christianity was firmly established. In the sixth century she was caught in a net by a monk of Bangor, and accepted the Christian faith.

James Carney's "Earliest Bran Material," which appears in Wooding's The Otherworld Voyage in Early Irish Literature

Melusine (1995)

She is the dark startle
of a dream staining
my first thoughts today-
a drowning dare
in black velvet underwear.

A melusine dripping on
the shores of my crashing world,
she spoke my name with a kiss.
How could I resist the winds
which keened round her bed,
older than the surf itself
which crushes boulders to sand?

All night she wove her
seal-sleek body around
the aching acre of my
half-submerging song.
I wake this morning
bleeding honey from every
pore she kissed.
All that now remains
of her are these lines
dripping seaweed on the page.

Some spillage of that swoon
has me thinking of you
so like and unlike her,
now far too many
dreams away. Some
ink too dreadful writes your
shadow into her name.

Today my heart's bed
refuses to warm me
from the sweet smash
of that bitterly fading surf
in which the two of you
wrapped your arms
around me in a wave
and then sent me away
wilder than wind.

The Mermaid (Traditional Ballad)

Twas Friday morn when we set sail
And we were not far from the land
When the captain, he spied a lovely mermaid
With a comb and a glass in her hand
O the ocean's waves may roll (let em roll)

And the stormy winds may blow (let em blow)
While we poor sailors go skipping to the top
And the landlubbers lie down below (below, below)
And the landlubbers lie down below
And up spoke the captain of our gallant ship

And a well-spoken man was he
I have me a wife in Salem by the sea
And tonight she a widow will be
And up spoke the cookie of our gallant ship
And a red hot cookie was he

Saying I care much more for my pots and my pans
Than I do for the bottom of the sea
Then three times around went our gallant ship
And three times around went she
Three times around went our gallant ship

And she sank to the bottom of the sea
Then up spoke the cabinboy, of our gallant ship
And a nasty little lad was he.
I'm not quite sure I can spell "mermaid"
But I'm going to the bottom of the sea.

Peg o' The Well

There is a well called Thors-kil or Thors-Well in the parish of Burnsall (Yorkshire) where it is declared that at the bottom of it dwells a mysterious being called Jenny Green-Teeth or Peg o' The Well, who will certainly drag into the water any child who approaches it.

-- Thomas Parkinson, "Yorkshire Legends and Traditions"

Water Parks (August 2003)

Many of the water parks
in Florida are closing
down: Marineland in
Miami, Cypress Gardens:
now I hear Weeki Wachee
can't pay its bills:
9/11, flaccid gate receipts,
the country's eye
for leisure turned
toward more hyperbolic
thrills: I don't get it:
Those water parks all
poured blue into
my perma aqua
thrall: When
I was 11 we drove
down from Chicago
in a station wagon,
mom four kids
and a dog (my father
staying behind in
the first separation)
We arrived glazed
on highway sights
(billboard, billboard,
traffic, cows) to blink
at the hothouse
startle of Florida,
jots of sun like
molt tigertooth
& the ocean a
merry girly blue:
Staying with my
grandmother in
Jacksonville we
ventured out one
day to ride those
fabled glass bottom
boats that caress
the waters of Weeki
Wachee Springs:
I stared slack-jawed
at the winnowed
revealed there -- fish
and coral and wavy weed
and utmost those
young women with the
long plastic tailfins who
smiled and waved at
me then took hits
from a breathing tube,
bubbles rising from
the corners of their
mouths effervescent
as my mind, their
eyes a glassy blue,
not quite clear, not
quite true, but good
enough, eternally so
for me: And their
hair -- weaving long
tresses of blonde
and brown, even a
goldfish copper red,
all like Ophelia-skirts
of decadent weed,
trailing on a current
that still directs
this pen: I'm sure
the day about and above
us in that boat was
bright and hot, the
knockneed cypresses
trailing ant-moss
on a higher breeze:
But all I can recall
today is that view below
-- more apt, loquacious,
& all I cared to see:
The way I see the world
when I close my eyes:
Driving back north
the highway tale
resumed its droll
count of power poles,
yet when I half-closed
my eyes the blur
of blue resumed, the
windows of our car
the bottom of a boat:
Back in school that
next year -- one of
many wounds and
nascent pleasures --
I stayed faithful to
those springs: For
at time I
commandeered into
my room an
Eskimo girl who lived
down the street:
We'd lay on my bed
"watching the fish"
as I called it: There
was a bowl of goldfish
on my desk next to
my bed, and we'd lay
watching them glissade
in water trailing long
silky tails: As
everything outside
turned cold and gray
I'd lay behind that
girl and stroke the
zipper of her white
pants and breathe
tropic fire:
That's as far as I knew
or cared to go, further
though than I ever
thought to: A dangerous
swim with a silent
girl pinioned next to me:
Watching the fish,
writing it all down:
After my parents split
we moved to Winter
Haven, a mile from
Cypress Gardens: I don't
think I ever saw the show
but I did go skiing on
the same lake, cutting
through their course,
the skis on me feet
like oars on glass,
fast and smooth
over a jaw of blue:
Once we drove
down to Lauderdale
to hit Marineland:
Watching those grey
dolphins romp and strut
was like staring down
into the tank of my
hormones: Such glee
to watch them leap
high and higher for
a fish, leaving a wake
of water flashing brilliant
in the sun, then falling
hard into a collapse
of blue: I guess
such entertainments
no longer hold enough
thrall: Too much TV,
video games, the thrill-
seeker's candied roar:
But I will always hold
those memories dear:
They door a passage
into a water world
filled with fish
and fakey mermaids,
gold fins and hair aswirl.

From "Voyages IV" (Hart Crane)

In all the argosy of your bright hair I dreamed
Nothing so flagless as this piracy.
But now
Draw in your head, alone and too tall here.
Your eyes already in the slant of drifting foam;
Your breath sealed by the ghosts I do not know.
Draw in your head and sleep the long way home.

Glaucus and Scylla

One day Glaucus saw the beautiful maiden Scylla, the favourite of the water-nymphs, rambling on the shore, and when she had found a sheltered nook, laving her limbs in the clear water. He fell in love with her, and showing himself on the surface, spoke to her, saying such things as he thought most likely to win her to stay; for she turned to run immediately on the sight of him, and ran till she had gained a cliff overlooking the sea. Here she stopped and turned round to see whether it was a god or a sea animal, and observed with wonder his shape and colour.

Glaucus partly emerging from the water, and supporting himself against a rock, said, "Maiden, I am no monster, nor a sea animal, but a god: and neither Proteus nor Triton ranks higher than I. Once I was a mortal, and followed the sea for a living; but now I belong wholly to it." Then he told the story of his metamorphosis, and how he had been promoted to his present dignity, and added, "But what avails all this if it fails to move your heart?" He was going on in this strain, but Scylla turned and hastened away.

Glaucus was in despair, but it occurred to him to consult the enchantress Circe. Accordingly he repaired to her island -- the same where afterwards Ulysses landed ... After mutual salutations, he said, "Goddess, I entreat your pity; you alone can relieve the pain I suffer. The power of herbs I know as well as any one, for it is to them I owe my change of form. I love Scylla. I am ashamed to tell you how I have sued and promised to her, and how scornfully she has treated me. I beseech you to use your incantations, or potent herbs, if they are more prevailing, not to cure me of my love,-- for that I do not wish,-- but to make her share it and yield me a like return."

To which Circe replied, for she was not insensible to the attractions of the sea-green deity, "You had better pursue a willing object; you are worthy to be sought, instead of having to seek in vain. Be not diffident, know your own worth. I protest to you that even I, goddess though I be, and learned in the virtues of plants and spells, should not know how to refuse you. If she scorns you scorn her; meet one who is ready to meet you half way, and thus make a due return to both at once." To these words Glaucus replied, "Sooner shall trees grow at the bottom of the ocean, and sea-weed on the top of the mountains, than I will cease to love Scylla, and her alone."

The goddess was indignant, but she could not punish him, neither did she wish to do so, for she liked him too well; so she turned all her wrath against her rival, poor Scylla. She took plants of poisonous powers and mixed them together, with incantations and charms. Then she passed through the crowd of gambolling beasts, the victims of her art, and proceeded to the coast of Sicily, where Scylla lived. There was a little bay on the shore to which Scylla used to resort, in the heat of the day, to breathe the air of the sea, and to bathe in its waters. Here the goddess poured her poisonous mixture, and muttered over it incantations of mighty power.

Scylla came as usual and plunged into the water up to her waist. What was her horror to perceive a brood of serpents and barking monsters surrounding her! At first she could not imagine they were a part of herself, and tried to run from them, and to drive them away; but as she ran she carried them with her, and when she tried to touch her limbs, she found her hands touch only the yawning jaws of monsters. Scylla remained rooted to the spot. Her temper grew as ugly as her form, and she took pleasure in devouring hapless mariners who came within her grasp. Thus she destroyed six of the companions of Ulysses, and tried to wreck the ships of Aeneas, till at last she was turned into a rock, and as such still continues to be a terror to mariners.

((Glaucus, alas, never stopped loving the she-beast.))

-- Bullfinch, "The Age of Fable"

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Fishy Squishy Sea-Drippy Vowels

The folk tradition of the insular Celts seems to present to the mind a half-aquatic world .. it introduces a feeling of transparency and interpenetration of one element with another; of transposition and metamorphosis.

-- David Jones, “Art and Epoch”

Writing Down the Fish

What if the entire intrauterine period of the higher mammals were only a replica of the type of existence which characterized the aboriginal piscene period, and birth itself nothing but a recapitulation on the part of the individual of the great catastrophe which at the time of the recession of the ocean forced so many animals, and certainly our own animal ancestors, to adapt themselves to a land existence, above all to renounce gill-breathing and provide themselves with organs for the respiration of air?

... If the fish swimming in the water signifies, as in so many fertility charms, the child in the mother’s womb, and if in a multiplicity of dreams we are forced to interpret the child as a symbol of the penis, the penis signification of the fish on the one hand, and on the other the fish signification of the penis, become more self-evident -- in other words, the penis in coitus enacts not only the natal and antenatal mode of existence of the human species, but likewise the struggles of that primal creature among its ancestors which suffered the great catastrophe of the drying up of the sea.

-- Sandor Ferenczi, Thalassa: A Theory of Genitality, transl. Henry Alden Bunker, MD

Dylan Eil Ton (Sea Son of Wave)

The moment he is baptised Dylan (twin of Lleu or Lug) makes for the sea and receives the sea’s nature, swimming well as any fish, and because of this he is called Dylan Eil Ton, "Sea Son of Wave." No wave ever broke beneath him.

-- Alwyn and Brinsley Rees, Celtic Heritage

from "Mediterranean" (Eugenio Montale)

Ancient one, I’m drunk with the voice
that comes out of your mouths
when they open like green bells,
then implode and dissolve.
You know the house of my long-gone
summers stood by you,
there in the land where the sun bakes
and mosquitoes crowd the air.
Today as then I turn to stone
in your presence, sea,
but no longer feel worthy
of the solemn admonition of you breathing.
It was you who first told me
the petty ferment of my heart was no more
than a moment of yours: that deep in me
was your hazardous law: to be fast
and voracious yet fixed:
and so empty myself of all uncleanliness
like you who toss on the beaches
among cork and seaweed and starfish
the useless rubble of your abyss.

transl. Jonathan Galassi

Borderling (Jan. 18, 2005)

Borderling I am,
of sea and shore
composed, a sand
which slips through
dark blue veins
from every bed
I’ve loved. Soul-
doors are packed
but hard where
waves have smashed
and roared, a road
worn smooth by
the feet of selkies
who have wandered in
and we who have walked
those crashing miles
searching for your
smile again. Here
is where worlds
mist and wash
to greet in songs
as old those strange
fish who first crawled
beyond the sea.
That land still
feels the ache of gills
no longer fanning blue,
sea angels and their
swift dragon left
behind to myths
forever drowned.
Here is where love
plunged me deep
into a sweet tide’s
psaltery, baptising
me in crash and swoon,
forever haunting every
wave with strange
ebbed quietus which
erased your smile at last.
Betrothed and sworn
I am to that infernal
wash that stained
my life half-blue,
bleached and burnt
by its shore-vowelings,
my feet shod in that
homeless wave
which voyages on
to every isle you
once slept in,
bedding your
resonance, entranced
with the fading
perfume that is
mixed in every tide.
This song grows
smooth as sea-glass
with day’s wave,
shoring the pale
throat which ferries
blue between
divinities, dominions
of soul at least --
heart wild as the
pagan sea, the mind
building its chapel
on those blue bones,
writing down the
waves. Here is my
country of birth,
my native tongue
of foam and breeze:
an oh-so-narrow isthmus
of sand-packed page
between eternal marges
of brine and fire,
of spume and torpor.
It’s a death of sorts
to remain here
where you will not
return, long after all
wrack of actual beaches
have long washed away:
Yet each walk before
first light refrains
the voice way down
which rose so many
lives ago. Borderling
of blue I am,
psalmist of that tide
on which all lovers
dreamers &
changelings on
blue angels ride.

Fara-Ghaol (Fiona Macleod)

"The sea's never so full that it can't drown sorrow."--Gaelic saying.

"'Heart of rock!' cried the sea to the land:
'Fara-ghaol (false love)!' cried the land to the sea."--Fragment of a Gaelic "iorram."

"Gur truagh nach mi 's mo leanu a bha
A muigh fo sgath nan geug O!"

"Would that I and my baby were
Under the shade of the tree, O!"--A Uist lullaby.

At a running water, that comes out at a place called Stràth-na-mara, near the sea-gates of Loch Suibhne, there is a pool called the Pool of the Changeling. None ever goes that way for choice, for it is not only the crying of the curlew that is heard there, or the querulous wailing lapwing.

It was here that one night, in a September of many storms, a woman stood staring at sea. The screaming sewmews wheeled and sank and circled overhead, and the solanders rose with heavy wing and hoarse cries, and the black scarts screeched to the startled guillemots or to the foam-white terns blown before the wind like froth. The woman looked neither at the sea fowl nor at the burning glens of scarlet flame which stretched dishevelled among the ruined lands of the sunset.

Between the black flurries of the wind, striking the sea like flails, came momentary pauses or long silences. In one of these the woman raised her arms, she the while unheeding the cold tide-wash about her feet, where she stood insecurely on the wet slippery tangle.

Seven years ago this woman had taken the one child she had, that she did not believe to be her own but a changeling, and had put it on the shore at the extreme edge of the tidereach, and there had left it for the space of an hour. When she came back, the child she had left with a numbness on its face and with the curse of dumbness, was laughing wild, and when she came near, it put out its arms and gave the cry of the young of birds. She lifted the leanav in her arms and stared into its eyes, but there was no longer the weary blankness, and the little one yearned with the petulant laughing and idle whimpering of the children of other mothers. And that mother there gave a cry of joy, and with a singing heart went home.

It was the seventh year after that finding by the sea, that one day, when a cold wind was blowing from the west, the child Morag came in by the peat-fire, where her mother was boiling the porridge, and looked at her without speaking. The mother turned at that, and looked at Morag. Her heart sank like a pool-lily at shadow, when she saw that Morag had woven a wreath of brown tangled seaweed into her hair. But that was nothing to the bite in her breast when the girl began singing a song that had not a word in it she had ever heard on her own or other lips, but was wild as the sound of the tide calling in dark nights of cloud and wind, or--as the sudden coming of waves over a quiet sea in the silence of the black hours of sleep.

"What is it, Morag-mo-rùn?" she asked, her voice like a reed in the wind.

"It's time," says Morag, with a change in her eyes, and her face smiling with a gleam on it.

"Time for what, Morag?"

"For me to be going back to the place I came from."

"And where will that be?

"Where would it be but to the place you took me out of, and called across?"

The mother gave a cry and a sob. "Sure now, Morag-a-ghràidh, you will be my own lass and no other?"

"Whist, woman," answered the girl; "don't you hear the laughing in the burn, and the hoarse voice out in the sea?"

"That I do not, O Morag-mo-chree, and sure it's black sorrow to you and to me to be hearing that hoarse voice and that thin laughing."

"Well, sorrow or no sorrow, I'm off now, poor woman. And it's good-bye and a goodbye to you I'll be saying to you, poor woman. Sure it's a sorrow to me to leave you in grief, but if you'll go down to the edge of the water, at the place you took me from, where the runnin' water falls into the sea-pool, you'll be having there against your breast in no time the child of your own that I never was and never could be."

"And why that, and why that, O Morag, lennavan-mo?"

"Peace on your sorrow, woman, and goodbye to you now"; and with that the sea-changeling went laughing out at the door, singing a wave-song so wild and strange the mother's woe was turned to a fear that rose like chill water in her heart.

When she dared follow--and why she did not go at once she did not know--she saw at first no sight of Morag or any other on the lonely shore. In vain she called, with a great sorrowing cry. But as later, she stood with her feet in the sea, she was silent of a sudden, and was still as a rock, with her ragged dress about her like draggled seaweed. She had heard a thin crying. It was the voice of a breast-child, and not of a grown lass like Morag.

When a grey heron toiled sullenly from a hollow among the rocks she went to the place. She was still now, with a frozen sorrow. She knew what she was going to find. But she did not guess till she lifted the little frail child she had left upon the shore seven years back, that the secret people of the sea or those who call across running water could have the hardness and coldness to give her again the unsmiling dumb thing she had mothered with so much bitterness of heart.

Morag she never saw again, nor did any other see her, except Padruig Macrae, the innocent, who on a New Year's eve, that was a Friday, said that as he was whistling to a seal down by the Pool at Stràth-na-mara he heard some one laughing at him; and when he looked to see who it was he saw it was no other than Morag--and he had called to her, he said, and she called back to him, "Come away, Padruig dear," and then had swum off like a seal, crying the heavy tears of sorrow.

And as for the child she had found again on the place she had left her own silent breastbabe seven years back, it never gave a cry or made any sound whatever, but stared with round, strange eyes only, and withered away in three days, and was hidden by her in a sand-hole at the root of a stunted thorn that grew there.

At every going down of the sun thereafter, the mother of the changeling went to the edge of the sea, and stood among the wet tangle of the wrack, and put out her supplicating hands, and never spoke word nor uttered cry.

But on this night of September, while the gleaming seafowl were flying through the burning glens of scarlet flame in the wide purple wildness of, the sky, with the wind falling and wailing and wailing and falling, the woman went over to the running water beyond the sea-pool, and put her skirt over her head and stepped into the pool, and, hooded thus and thus patient, waited till the tide came in.

-- from The Winged Destiny

Thalassa (Jan. 2003)

Travel down the monkey’s ass &
You’ll find a fish’s tail, finned for
Sailing the biggest womb of all.
Beyond foolery, these motions
Are more riven, nigh desperate
To swim and fuck and eat. That’s all.
That road is five hundred million
Years long; and deep, too, sounding some
thirty thousand leagues of salt blue.
The fish’s tail hangs from my own a
Very long ways back and down; that’s
Good comfort as I fan ahead
With my tribe, who think their brains have
Brighter synapses than the sea’s.
May all I fling swim deep in thee.

Changeling (Nov. 2003)

She has changed in my soul’s eye
as I rowed isle to isle in search
of her: Her eyes from blue to green,
her hair from blonde to red
to a mellow auburn; the swoon
of her once-revealing breasts
has lowered to the sight of
her walking away from me.
At first it was my historic row
with her, each night a chase,
each bed a beckons beyond
which I had no sense or smarts
to follow. Then it was my history’s
scriptorium, as I wrote down
the story of each encounter,
weaving spoory myths around
her nightly thrall. Now it
seems I just boat the narrow
straits inside the story, and
I do not see her at all, just blue
beckons, red plunge, the ebbing
tide of farewell. Her song was first
snatched from the faintest breeze
piping from the flimsiest reed,
but it has grown as it dove down
through all the tenors of a
salt orchestra, piccolo to flute
to bassoon to doublebass, on
down to a grand tolling organ,
whose vox humana notes grind
the oceans from the lowest,
basalt bass. Deep and deeper
do I find her, down the long
shelves and arras of the abyss,
down to the very crack of doom
which splits the sea-beds wide.
And in that malefic fire I salt
her female swoon, all my ends
crowned there with her O Gods,
her heart-bursting O Yes. Will
it ever end, this blue descent
into the matins of the muse?
Do I even care? For if every day
there’s fresh milk and strewn
underwear then I can row forever,
a changeling at the oar who
became wavelike in his roar,
racing over seas all night of
a life to psalm each day’s greeting
on the next new nippled shore,
my inkwell ever changing
the hues of her dolor
-- though the pulse is singular
and just one heart I know houses
the whole symphonic pour
of her parallelling vicissitudes,
of her every dawning door.

Mixed Blessings (1994)

Sunlight washes
this room, hides,
then returns,
revealing in one day
two shores,
two dolphins
chasing each other
over and through
the waves.

Simple to say
these antiphons
of light and shadow
teach the heart
to love its life
and fret love's end,
but these are not
simply alternation,
but doubly a reverse:
an unrivaled revel
pulsing over the grave.

All of this favors
the poem, I think,
and guides my words
with a thirst all waters
yet none may quell.

A poem dowses its
way to love on a path
of frangipani and yew,
with only their counter rages
to scent a middle way.

Thus I write
in praise of all
mixed blessings:
and pray for the wisdom
the half-scythed,

Knowing my certainties
are no compass.
Coming to believe in shreds,
vagabond indices
of a truth
and leaping
about a room.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Archetype (1)

Now would all the waves were women,
then I’d go drown, and chassee with them evermore!

— Maltese sailor in "Moby Dick"

Archetype (2)

Pierre Vidal, who started his career in the early 1180’s, was a mixture of publicist and lover. He “was of Tolulouse the son of a furrier, and he sang better than any man in the world, and he was one of the most foolish men that ever lived, for he believed that all tings that pleased him, or that he wished, were true. And song-making came more eaily to him than to any man in the world, and it was he who made the richest melodies and talked the greatest nonsense about war and love and slandering of others.”

-- in Lindsay, The Troubadours and their world

My Island of Farewells (Jan. 15, 2005)

Did I say that you left me
upon that crashed now
ebbing shore? Surely it
was I who chose to
leave first so many
times down the years,
so much so that I’m
your better or worser
half in getting back
to the shoreless sea.
How many times
was it who who
left behind the
shape of human heart
leaving it wonder
where the hell I’d gone?
Of course those lonely
shadows staring out
window I never turned
to look back into,
those shades are
not blue to me
but dark- and mistier,
colder fumes arising
from the graveyard
of desire, cursing
every excess I’d
hurled into the soak.
I’ll not name names
nor enumerate those
nights, nor describe
here those isles
I couldn’t wait to
fully awaken on
before heaving ship
to go. Boredom, fear,
heat-fatigue, idiocy --
a legion of crimes
against high love
are linked together in
a ghostly chain
which rattles somewhere
in my life’s reckoning --
not hell but cold
as such, the wintry measure
of how much wrong
one person may commit
against a beloved in
the name of better
beds, more roseate
ends. “I’ll call,” I’d
sing from the door,
a sort of robust last kiss
for that prone form
who had given me all
I’d wanted and how
but could not light
that engaging fire
which mates a night
to the whole ding
dong choir. Outside
the late late night
was always so empty,
the world fast asleep,
a humid mist spooring
out from the groves
as I drove happily
towards home,
creeping ghostlike
into my car’s low beams,
the sighing of my
Calypso lingering
at low tide, calling
Wait to the blue merge
I’d faded into -- wait
goes the surf’s lifelong
refrain -- I hear
it in the cold winds
this morning hauling
through the camphor
and oak trees, revenant
and icy as it plucks
the chords of love
upon a lyre of old guilt.
Girlfriends, wives,
a stepdaughter, cats --
How can I blame you so
for leaving me behind
when I went on to leave
so many in the name of
that singular crime?
Poor fool me, keening
orchestrally inside the
chapel of a long-broken,
sea-drowned heart:
transfixion is the cross
I hang between your
perfect breasts, swinging
from that chain I
link with every cruelty
I’ve hammered in love’s name.

Procedural Note

... Arnaut I am, that hoard the breeze,
I am the ox that hunts the hare,
The man that swims against the tide.

-- Arnaut Daniel (c. 1191), transl. Jack Lindsay

That's You looking up down there

During the last two years oceanographers of Columbia University and the U.S. Geological Survey, have measured the distribution of radioactive substances, particularly radiocarbon and tritium, in the deep ocean, in an attempt to trace thepaths of motion and the mixing of the waters. They found that the radiocarbon “age” of the deep water averages about 500 years and the deep layers seem to be thoroughly mixed ...

... Measurements by the British research vessel Discovery, and the Atlantis of the Woods Hole Institution, have shown the existence of a current of about half a knot of 2,000 meters depth, almost directly under the Gulf Stream and flowing in exactly the opposite direction, that is, to the southward.

-- Collier’s Encyclopeida Yearbook 1958, “Oceeanography”

Short Voyage, Long Shores

... And a short voyage we shall share
and all my hopes at last fulfill,
advancing onwards slowly where
her grace and beauty lead me still.

-- Arnaut de Mareuil (13th cent.)
transl. Jack Lindsay

What a short voyage indeed,
those days and nights
which shored our first and
farewell kiss; and yet
that once we travelled
so far out to sea
that I’ve yet to fully
return. Amid years
of grief and waste
and eventual remarriage
to the life, its wife
and margeless
a ghostlike reverence
has remained, the flickering
tallow of that sea-wave
in your smile which tides
so dark and richly
far below or beyond
or inside aging days.
Somewhere I’m still
aboard that bed we
floated on between an
infinite crash and fall.
Inside silvery blue-glass
walls that curved
and held us in thrall
we exchanged again
the tokens which
first broke in us
when stars were fresh
as cream -- halves of
a fin-bone we
once saddled to
every sea-depths
upon dragonish shapes,
our wings the span of
every voyage we later
dreamed when sails
were hurled by sighs.
Oh, that voyage led
to nothing for those
two random twenty-
somethings who
were about nothing
but sex and a fool’s
notion of love in
1982: Another bad
seed fallen from
that that bad pop
song “Believin’”
by Journey, where the
voyage never stops
long after kisses and
high hopes have all
turned and walked away.
And look what there
has grown: a green tower
of arching ache
with which roots as
deep as boughs
as flung wide. Here
is the esplumoir which
feeds from what we
found inside that wave
for oh so short a
season -- a few weeks
of days and nights,
that’s all -- a half
dozen rapturous
tsunamis one love’s
thousand lifetimes tall.
God and Devil were
raptured back that
season from the
chill of their abyss,
to rim and ring and
riddle forth the
memory of that
shared so shoreless kiss

Mast Head View (of You)

Let us stand high in the Pequod’s main mast with Ishmael in Moby Dick, as he accounts the danger of

... the poor, dreamy mast-head scout .. a sunken-eyed young Platonist who will tow you ten wakes round the world and never make you one pint of sperm the richer...

... lulled into such an opium-like listlessness of cacant, unconscious reverie is the this absent-midned youth by the blending cadence of waves with thoughts, that at last he loses his identity; takes the mystic ocean at his feet for the visible image of that deep,blue, bottomless soul, pervading mankind and nature; and every strange, half-seen, gliding,beautiful thing that eludes him; every dimly-discovered, uprising fin of some undiscernible form, seems to him the embodiment of those elusive thoughts that only people the soul by continually flitting through it. In this enchanted mood, the spirit ebbs awa to whence it came, becomes diffused through time and space; like Wickliff’s sprinkled Pantheistic ashes, forming at last a part of eveyr shore the round globe over.

There is not life in thee, now, except that rocking life imparted by a gently rolling ship; by her, borrowed from the sea; by the sea, from the inscrutable tides of God. But while this sleep, this dream is on ye, move your fot or hand an inch, slip your hold at all; and your identity comes back in horror. Over Descartian vortices you hover. And perhaps, at mid-day, in the fairest weather, with one half-throttled shriek, you drop through that transparent air into the summer sea, no more to rise for ever. Heed it well, ye Pantheists!

Peril De Mer (Jan. 17, 2005)

The 15th-century Melker Physiologus
... has the story that the sea-creatures
sira, half-maiden, half-fish, leads
the sailors away, after which they

According to the Bestiare by Phillipe
da Thaon, the serra obstructs the ships
in a very special manner, the creature
raises its wings and, by proceeding in
front of the ship and depriving it of
wind, does great harm.

... In his Besitare, Guillam le Clerc
defines the serra simply as a
peril de mer, feared by sailors for
its propensity for sinking ships.

-- Clara Strijbosch, The
Seafaring Saint

Every voyage has its squalls,
and she is every sailor’s
honeyed nightmare, an
abscissa riding butt-naked
on the wave-mare of abyss.
Desire fraught with peril
bound her waist with
flesh above and scales
below, the sweet dive
down from her roseate
breasts trapped by
screeching terror
in the depths. Who can
resists, who would dare
to dive into that
wilding wave, which rises
twice the height of
a man’s main mast?
A sailor is composed
of such fraught foamings,
when the apparition
rises from the foggy
aft of sleep, almost
a girl, certainly
a reaper of every
throb and leap
inside my hips,
her voice almost
a surflike croon,
her blue eyes pale
and icier than
the high scimitar of
the moon. Oh what
halves sweet heaven
into shrieking hell
than those thighs
which never quite
appear above the
wave’s wild crest,
thighs which have
gripped the keels
of galleons & split
them with a sigh?
Travail here carefully,
you who would ever
shore again. She is
every drink you must
think all the way
from glow to basement
doom; you do so
by reading between
the lines of her aria,
to see the skulls
piled high amid
the whales and squid
and split mast-heads.
That breasts so close
could fan so far those
frozen depths below
is the peril de mer
you must embrace
if your would live
to write the voyage
down. I draw her
shape to the right
of the last page, or
house her in parenthesis
(here) like that conch
on every shore which
set to ear splits wide
the door where nothing
but your sighs like
whiskey pours. Listen
too long to that music
at your peril, friend:
sails of gossamer and
lace will ice and ghost
the mast, prelude to
the foam which
covers it at last.

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