Tag Archives: neptune

Neptune’s Beard

Tendrils of Neptune’s beard

Rising in ivory coils

And covering the sea like a veil of marble

To reach through the weeping breakwater

Like mischievous fingers

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The pale curiosities

The mermaids breathless fans

Busy explosions of salt and light

Wink beneath the seaweed like drowned irises

Amidst the blu-eyed scallops

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Cast across the waves like nets

That stretch over pelagic miles

And pull at the chin of a submerged god

Who lies beneath the wandering patterns

To watch the ocean’s lively tapestry

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Sea Horse

When the crescent of the Armada broke in the late summer of 1588, it scattered splinters and bodies across the North Atlantic and along the northern islands in a macabre embroidery.  Flags and riggings decorated with holy families and the Five Wounds bled into the sand.  Gold and armor lay untended and frosted with rust.

In the initial panic, the towering Spanish galleons leaned into the wind like rooks on a chessboard, eager to return to the hinterland of its ranks and the shadow of their king.  These were bulky assassins, and in order to lighten their load and so increase their speed, all that could be jettisoned was:  crates, food, drink, guns, cannon, ammunition.  And then – possibly as a last, pained resort – the horses.   Andalusians, Barbs, jennets were thrown overboard into the sea thick with salt and hypothermia.  In the months following accounts came from the outskirts of guilty Scotland and Ireland of the looted remains of soldiers and the sight of horses, either lying dead on the shore, or still swimming – the crescent of white in their eyes echoing the battle formation of Spain’s ‘Great and Most Fortunate Navy’.

Out of the 30,000 soldiers, sailors, priests, shanghaied criminals and farmers who sailed with the Armada, less than 10,000 returned.   Many horses were lost, but no one knows how many.  Some washed up onto the sand, dead or dying.   Some floated on the water, their fiery blood quenched forever.

But there were a few that sank.  Not to die, but to live – to feel the abyssal cold and pelagic molecules wind around their equine DNA, to be transformed, to swim, to forage for the particles of air that lurked inside the seaweed and water.  Their equine flesh became tinged with brine and a maritime sentiment.

seahorse

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Their journey was deep, and the pressure of the sea’s embrace increased.  They became small and toy like, and like mermaids their legs disappeared, submerged beneath a skin of scales and luster. They curled around shrouds of kelp far below the splintered ships and bloody riggings – floating through oceanic slipstreams and prisms of fish the color of silken horizons.

Centuries have passed since this incarnation, when the Armada’s herds escaped from their rancid bodies.  Neptune had long fancied a team to pull his chariot of pearl and blue-eyed scallops; his decision made, he pointed with his trident to the dying animals above him. He pitied their beauty.  Their drowning spirits offended him, for he was a sympathetic god, despite his brawn and salty humor.

neptune

There is little of the sea horse now that would recall its origins.  But riding along their backbones there are spikes that are still as sharp as the quivers of pikes carried by the invading navy.  And their curious skin is patterned in subtle plates, as if they wore the remnants of the armor once worn by the foolish and unprepared sailors.  Many are as bronzed as Spanish gold and occasionally dappled with scarlet, to show that they had not forgotten the distant invasion that had punctured the sea with drops of blood.

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Mermaids In The Hippodrome

A face, faded and distant, gazes up from its bleached acreage, yearning to escape the sepia dimensions.  A buried life, it is a portrait as remote and sad as a mermaid chained beneath the sea.   

Self-Made 'Mar-Made'

Yet when she lived, she was part of New York City’s urban garishness.   She performed before the remnants of The Gilded Age, staring into the cheap wealth and tastelessness of the new century. 

For a year she was on the stage, playing in the water and perched in the air, posed next to her iridescent sisters wearing silks that rippled with color and oceanic fancy.  From 1906-1907 she sang dainty songs of fish that spoke, ships that sailed and half-women who swam. 

They wore necklaces of beads that dazzled their throats in foreign patterns.  Ropes of shells decorated their hair and swung below their faces – bejeweled like pelagic czarinas.  In costumes that clicked and murmured they decorated artificial and painted seas.  They glittered with myth and romance, in the middle of New York, inside its newest theater.

The Hippodrome, a boastful expanse of bricks and plaster, was completed in 1905. 

Greatest Show On Land And Sea

The following year, ‘Neptune’s Daughter’ began its 10-month run.  It is a story of how Sirene, Queen of the Mermaids, tempted a young man below the sea, to mend and tantalize his broken heart.  But the heroine, who secretly loves him, despairs at the edge of the sands.  In answer to her misery, Neptune rises from the water inviting her to accompany him beneath the sea, to join her beloved.  Throughout the course of the play, the world’s largest water tank is used, as figures appear and disappear as gracefully as any denizen of the sea god’s court.

How did they do it?

“No spectacular invention or innovation of recent years has aroused such popular interest or awakened such widespread curiosity as the mermaid scene in “Neptune’s Daughter” at the Hippodrome.”

It was a secret:  a salty vow taken to uphold the mystery of their submerged kingdom.

“The mermaids ‘hoped they might die’ if they told, and knew they would lose their positions in case they had the hardihood to break faith with the management”.

Did the maritime fogs breathe through their veins or did their bones arch like coral prisons in an unnatural pact between sea and physiology?  Were their hearts like grottos:  multi-chambered and shaped like stars?  Did the moon  hold them in a lunar thrall – did they ride on her radiant tides?

Or perhaps it was just earthly invention, the whimsy of physics.  These ladies were a part of fact, not fancy.  Each maid of the sea was provided with her own oceanic chamber, “as safe as a true mermaid in a real submarine dwelling house.”  Each of these submerged bubbles was open at the bottom, a room of confined air, just large enough for an actress to reside in, waiting for her time to swim through the opening to the surface of the tank. 

“A genuine submerged village is there under the surface of the Hippodrome tank…”

It was an odd performance, trapped inside the water, watching the splashes of light and the prisms of music sink towards her.

The audience was stunned by the sight.  But shallow interests abounded in the great city, inviting society’s wandering attention.  In August, 1907, ‘Neptune’s Daughter’ closed, returning its mermaids back to earth.  But still the beads of water trailed after them, rainbow-edged and firm, like forlorn droplets of mercury.  The summer heat offended their watery souls, and the petals fell in defeat from their hair.  

Thirty-two years later, the Hippodrome was destroyed.  In 1952, the bragging acreage was replaced  by office buildings and a parking garage.  Perhaps as they were laying down the liquid concrete the workmen were startled by an invisible chorus of pretty, filigreed voices raised in protest.

Sea Change

They delineate the shoreline in a waving spine, steadfast in their salty acres – these homes I can hold in my hand.  Architecture that was once submerged, they were born inside currents that pulsed turquoise and lavender, and grew behind an oceanic veil, cold and serene.   

They tumble in the boiling surf, helpless in the blind physicality whose desire originated miles out at sea where winds stir the water into madness.   It was a long journey, far from the depths where Neptune’s verdant singing embraced the watery world like the god’s muscular arms.  They were far from the light that split into a labyrinth of prisms, from shadows that bloomed at the edge of the sunken earth.  

When they were free of the ocean’s rough attentions, the glassy beach, reflecting seagulls and ships, beckoned.   There they stretch like an untended necklace, a rope to mark the extent of the ocean’s appetite.  

Their bleached, fossilized skin, made of sand and salt, was tattooed with rhythmic designs.  Patterns leapt across a map of continents and followed a cartography of rivers carved into bone.  Products of Nature’s boundless whimsy and creativity, they were the sum of her busy fingers, carving skeletons into cathedrals, sweeping stairways and twisted carousels. 

When she opened her hand, she whispered their story into each pelagic coil, then scattered them across the green and pearl-dazzled landscape of the sea.  And anyone who picked the shell up to hold it close would feel her silvery breath and hear her dreaming narration of an empire of fishes, coral grottos, drowning suns, and a world far beyond our grasp.

Shellf Life

The Nameless House

When sunlight pours into the ocean it shimmers and gyrates, teasing the outstretched fingers of currents that twist through the water like mermaids.  Coins of light scatter in illuminated fans:  a submerged dawn that scintillates the cold depths.

The bottom of the ocean is a map of grottoes and sunken lakes; green kingdoms covering a mysterious country in a template of power and grace.  Sea-monsters lurk in coral forests, sleeping in the turquoise and lavender shadows.   Oysters – mothers-of-pearl – rest in their beds, waiting for the birth of their nacreous offspring. Iridescent populations swim, their skins covered in faceted scales that split light like prisms.   

The sunlight, decanted from a sky drunk with heat, descended on this landscape.  It cloaked the gods and kings in residence with a gilded veil, illuminating their watery empires.

It fell upon the shoulders of Neptune, working in the rooms of his grotto.  His trident lay discarded in a corner, unused and bristling with impudent barnacles. His cache of sea-horses, a restive mass of fins and hooves, had been unhitched from their chariot.  They yearned to feel the reins of knotted seaweed tearing at their mouths, to gallop and undulate through the torrential sea, to carry their master in triumph over the rippling sand.

But their master was busy.

By his feet there were shells.  Curved, turbaned, arched and coiled, they were as marvelous as cathedrals, yet small enough to get lost in the ocean god’s fingernail.  There were bones:  the marrow and cartilage from turtles, whales, fish and seals – the architecture of discarded, splintered bodies.  Only the sharks’ teeth – arranged in smiling, predatory groups – kept their triangular silhouettes intact.

Before him was a pleasant confusion of rooms and hallways.  But the walls were blank – lacking ornament or symbols…devoid of all mythical recollection and challenge.    

However, behind him finished walls were thick with decoration. 

Sub-Marine

Suns designed with amber scallops and shreds of scarlet abalone.  Constellations blazed underwater, solstice and equinox were outlined in rib cages and sand dollars. The genesis of the ocean was explained in codes and ciphers.  Scientific equations, mathematicians’ questions and alchemists’ answers stretched from room to room in a chain of intellectual wonder.    

Corners and Conchology

From the donations of his ocean, Neptune created a mosaic worthy of his wisdom and nobility.  And for millennia it remained hidden, a secret that lurked in the twilight beneath the foam.  It remained serene and perfect, while continents kicked within their earthly womb, and evolution ran roughshod over mystery.

In 1835, Neptune’s house reached the surface.  Receding waters twisted around the teeming designs and languages.  Tapestries of seaweed dripped from ceilings.  Fishes’ scales glittered forlornly, like alien stars rising from the sea.

Two years later, the house was made open to the public.  Gas lamps balanced on stairways, winking in the mystic darkness that refused to disclose the god’s inspirations.  Light and dark conspired together:  soot from the lamps covered the walls, making carbon dating impossible.  No one would ever know when the rooms were created – no one could ever the guess the identity of the maritime lord whose hands had lovingly brushed their primeval design.   

Take Shell-ter

Before the uninvited guests, before the onslaught of beauties and Brummels, before the   Industrial Age, there was quiet.  The liquid air was blue and dense.  Its molecules fragmented into sapphire and turquoise jewels that were sewn into the gowns of the underwater gods.   Tides whispered stories of their moon’s dominion and legend held the aquatic world close to its dreaming, drowning heart.

Her Endless Face

The shoreline was sparked with watery highlights, like a face glistening with sweat – cold to the touch, salty to the taste.  This was an endless landscape that formed the continents' profiles – straits, harbors and estuaries carved into the bones of her geographic shadow.  This silhouette was so complex that it would be a lifetime's work to maneuver around her expression.  This was a living portrait that dove into the blue glamour of the ocean and let the waves crash and worry its fair brow.

This was an old face, layered with history and secrets, full of earthquakes and continental drifts.  Small rivers embroidered her sandy complexion, wrinkling the fabric that lay across the fortunate coastlines. 

The feet of seabirds – not crows – dimpled her skin with a pattern of their dainty movements.

 

Her relationship with the ocean was a violent one; many times her face was beaten and broken by the masculine waves.  Often there were storms – stirred from an invisible core of anger and rising unbidden into a sky pale with fear – that collided with her passive scenery.

But in the morning, the shore would be littered with gifts from the sea, symbols of its guilt:  shells, sharp as shattered gemstones, shaped and patterned with all the cleverness it could muster, lay in profusion and confusion.  And after they were delivered, it was just possible to see a trident pierce the fog and hear the scalloped wheels of a chariot slice open the water like a wound, as the ocean admitted its maritime king into his pearly grottoes and silver kingdoms. 

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