Manatee: a Retrospective

What moved you, manatee?

This morning, when I wake tense against the noise of the coming day, knowing I’ll need to retreat from it so I can hear, I am thinking of the manatee. Of the fingernails on its flippers from when they walked on land. 

I am wondering, what moved you, manatee?

Legend has it you were a young woman, bathing at the river’s edge. Then came a hunter and you knew: better to throw your body into the water than to risk staying where you were. Since then, they watched after you, puzzled after your retreating form–– comparing it, I imagine, to their memories of other women, gone.

They call you sea cow, but watch your fluent dance: now alone, now a pair, now an aggregation, all after the same dying grasses. It’s the algae, they say, fed by runoff, blocking the light.

The mothers when the calves are born, lift them to the surface, to breathe. You will wait to breathe when needed. You will wait to breathe, when sleeping. You will not wait forever.

Your curiosity draws you to the nets. Your hunger draws you to the grasses, entanglement in fishing line. Your calves would feed beneath your flipper, except when the line chokes your milk, and they say your name comes from the word for breast.

When you can’t get warm, there are lesions on your flippers like frostbite. On the surface of the water, you sigh rather than breathe. Do you whisper, too? You must have known the hunter once. How else could you know when to leave the land? 

What did you know, daughter of the river, before you entered, and where are we supposed to go now?

I’ll Meet You at the Lost and Found

I’m seeing these lost parts everywhere. In the mirror and on everyone I pass.

*I’m working with new constraints this week, aiming to limit these posts to being conceived and done in an hour or less, with means writing no more than 15-30 minutes, to allow time for finding ideas, posting, images, etc. One of my go-to places to look for ideas is the lost and found section on Craigslist. I’ve done this before in an earlier post. Today’s exercise was infused with some thoughts I’ve been having lately, about what happens to unshed grief.

I have forgotten the names of the titles to these books I once read, and do you know this feeling? In one, a botanist befriends a chosen savior, rides a horse out of town, and finds a special door, which makes a sound like a gong. In the other, there’s a woman in a hospital bed who suddenly develops special powers.

I used to have some of these, too, where I could will a thing to happen with my mind. I’d think, ice cream, ice cream, ice cream––all day, sometimes two, three, four days in a row––and then, out of nowhere, I’d hear it, the sound of the Good Humor truck! It was magic. I coveted the Chipwich, but the firecracker popsicle would do.

The dog is gone again, also the cat. But now I have this chameleon. I hope someone will claim it, as it will not eat standard pet food. I am tired of buying crickets, but I am not sure if it is any good at hunting and don’t want it starving on my watch. I don’t know where it is now, BTW.

I found a wedding ring, a kayak paddle, a Dora the Explorer backpack full of syringes, and a small sandal, sized for a toddler’s foot––all on the bike path near the railroad tracks. There was an open suitcase near the offramp by Broadway and Main, clothes scattered everywhere, my eye was drawn to the colors: blouses in fuchsia, teal, pomegranate, and the display of women’s underthings. 

I lost the number I meant to call. Remember we met on the beach? And the name of that movie I told you about? It was my favorite that year, but after I returned it, I never saw it anywhere else. 

I’m seeing these lost parts everywhere. In the mirror and on everyone I pass. They’re hanging off of us all the time. Sometimes we look like ragged snakes, trying to shed old skins, other times like ragged soldiers in torn battledress, other times just like children who have just left their favorite toys in the park. You can tell, sometimes, when someone’s about to drop their courage. The sight of joi de vivre melting off a face is so particular. When someone stumbles upon their lost sense of humor, it’s infectious, leaking out of their pores.

Then there’s all those things you don’t keep and you don’t hold, that pile of griefs accumulated somehow, stuffed or tossed one by one, in the backs of closets, under the bed, dropped into the abyss of an oversized purse, in the catchall drawer with all the takeout menus and spare hardware––but eventually, you’re not losing and you’re not finding, exactly; they’re just there. And then there are these moments in the produce aisle of the grocery store where you’re suddenly floating over the citrus display, then landing near the parsley and cilantro, eyes suddenly wet, because it was only a moment, but you saw it, how people clutched their carts and baskets to themselves, or out in front, like shields, filling and emptying, an endless stream, searching eyes glazed under fluorescent lights. 

“Osprey” by Laura Pontiggia on flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license.

I meant to list some more things I was finding, but my hands are tired, knuckles white. 

Funny how you can lose the will to hold a thing, even when you thought you could––if you saved up, if you built muscles strong enough, if you never looked down. I’ll come back tomorrow, I’ll open this catchall drawer, I’ll look. While I’m at it, I’ll check these ads again, see if anyone’s missing a chameleon. Then I’ll see about finding the chameleon. But now, I need to find some silence, and a pillow.

Before I do, do you know that the osprey have built a nest in those lights across the field? Do you remember? That song we used to sing back and forth when life was the thing we would keep, between us, if only we held tight enough. I can’t remember the words now. Can you help?

Blessing the Torn Sky

A few hours ago, I learned it was Lucille Clifton’s birthday, and thought immediately of her beautiful “Blessing the Boats.” Then I knew what to do with what I was meaning to notice, from yesterday’s time at Balboa Park, which is right near San Diego’s airport, where the planes fly very low.

May the sky
that tears above us
every ten minutes
with the next landing
hold you still
in its infinities, barely
contained. May you notice
the webs noiselessly repaired
in the shade-giving tree. 

May you hold the noise
and feel its impact, understand
what it means to live
in the time of tearing skies
and then turn your ears 
to the hush of leaves against
leavings, expanding in chorus
above you and to the hawks
overhead, and then to the drums
beneath the tree down the hill. Watch

––the dancers in unison and each 
their own, leaves singing the leaving 
of an ancient dance, remembered
in chorus in ways that it may never be, 
alone, in the place you go first to notice
the dead 
        before they are named. 

May you see
​             the bird on the low, long branch,
how violently its blood-red breast sways 
with each new tear in the still-aching
sky. May you study like these near the drums,
those songs that time and distance and generations
of death would have killed by now if they had not 
recognized, first alone and then in chorus, 
how the only way to mark the days of 
separation by sea and torn sky
is by gripping what moves beneath you

as you grip what moves through you, as
the same song, the same flight, holding
first until you can move into it, even as
you notice each fresh wound, tearing a 

body you once thought eternal, prone to 
capricious moods but never injury, and 
may you know how something new happens
now, even if: the wound is real and yes, it is

another man with a sword, eager to pierce
the next heaven, and you know what this
is because flesh won’t forget, insisting against
its own small space, on dancing eulogies in 
concert 

with the still uncounted souls waiting
here, beneath this torn heaven, for the next 
sign, and may you trace it, holding the line and
waiting to carry it, may you wait and hold, listen

and then cry out when the time is right, as the hawks
above have been doing ever since you arrived, finding
in the act of swaying with each pointed arrival, each
still-dripping wound, some way to recognize, 

even as you feel each cut from your crown 
to your feet, how none ever sever you from it. 
May you hold your hands up, open to 
these wounded forevers, 

and sway.