Tag Archives: ocean

The Three Sisters

The sisters were bored. Mintaka, Alnilam and Alnitak had grown weary of their life in the sky, caught in the luminous circle of Orion’s belt: an existence of being mere accessories to an ancient, hunting constellation.

And to make matters worse, every October they observed, like envious astronomers, the descent of the Orionid meteor shower. They watched the bright veil bound for parts unknown: the blue and green planet that patiently awaited the radiant visitation.

Repeatedly they begged the night sky’s very patient empress – for the moon was surrounded by stars of varying ages, and had grown used to their supplications – if they might not just once be included in the festivities, just to see what the flamboyant illumination was all about. Surely Orion could look after his silly buckle and sword by himself.

Though the meteor shower never seemed to return, and despite the moon’s tedious explanations of atmospheres and ozones and burning dust, making the sisters wild with impatience – Alnitak actually swelled into a supergiant in her annoyance, threatening her figure – their opportuning continued.

Finally, weary of their tiny voices bouncing off latitudes and longitudes, traveling through endless light-years, the moon gave in.

On their given day of release, the sisters began their journey downward. They noticed the change in the air – its shape and texture: becoming thinner, harsher. Instead of the soft unchanging shadows at the top of the sky, they saw rushing by them a prism of colors: cobalt, turquoise, lavender, emerald, tangerine, bronze, cherry, ivory. They thrilled at the swift-moving kaleidoscope.

But this wasn’t the only change that the stars noticed. The moon, ever considerate of her wayward children, made sure that the stars’ arrival would be no cause for alarm. The stars would not crash into the earth with an undignified thump, to be left wallowing in the depths of their personal craters. And as they were promised a jaunt amongst humanity, they were given the shapes of women. And since they were the daughters of the lunar queen, they were given royal status: the three sisters became princesses. Finally, feeling creative and compassionate, the moon also made them impossibly beautiful. Their flesh became as fragrant as tinted power, their cheeks, fingertips and elbows were touched with rouge, their lips were as soft as honey. Their substance was made from the delicate wreckage of a ladies boudoir.

They journeyed through histories and centuries. Their gowns and veils swirled about their bodies and faces like galaxies. This irony was not lost on them and they made a note to thank their clever mother for her wit as soon as they returned. Mintaka, at least, the most distant and introverted of the sisters, intended on keeping this promise.

They had a lovely time. The irresponsibility, the freedom from the astrological maps embedded in the charcoal-colored firmament…the earth was such a lovely place. But then they discovered something else.

It made a rushing, cold sound that vibrated beneath their feet. There was a sense of movement, of hidden life – of a foreign world made of silver, salt and scales: if they knew what those things were.

Beyond curious, they once again asked to be shown one more new world. Beyond annoyed, the moon listened…but to the sisters’ surprise she quickly agreed upon realizing the nature of their request. So a basket was fashioned for the girls to delicately step into – and they were softly lowered from the green bluffs onto the gentle, sighing ocean.

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And they enjoyed themselves mightily. The pale horizon, the glitter of shark’s teeth and fishes’ breath beneath the water, the kelp forests, the tireless birds, the grottos made of pearls and coral. They could have floated aimlessly forever.

They did not realize that the moon had a plan. For she was ruler of the oceanic rhythms: every time she had a whim to do so, she would cast a silken line rigged with invisible hooks and pull the tides towards her. And on the evening when Orion’s complaints got to be too much- something about a lack of embellishments – the moon, as well as catching the tide, made sure that she secured the sisters’ floating basket as well.

As a result, on that night the tide was unusually high…and stargazers were amazed to see a trio of stars actually ascending, until they returned to their homes, becoming the stationary jewels decorating Orion’s belt once more.

My Wedding

I found the ring of bone by the rim of the ocean, balanced on the wreckage of kelp and wood verdant with the opaque scents of brinish decay.  Its center was round and musical:  like a bell, it must have rung repeatedly as it spun through its submerged world, dappled with prims of light and scales.  But before me now, a stationary instrument, it was quite silent.

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It was the color of froth and ivory; drenched in gentle sepia and as pale as a ship’s sails billowing with the ocean’s nautical edicts.   Cut by the whim of the sea and the fist of the tide, its outline was as crooked as the shorelines of continents.  Its maritime alchemy was of salt, riggings as tangled as discarded corsets, drowned mists and the breath of fishes.  Its core was a rosette, curling like the architectural heart of a flower.  Polished by currents of sand, molded by the curving, relentless acres it came to an end on the rocks:  broken and finished.

And there I found it – my accidental gift refined by the jeweler whose horizon extended into a silver oblivion.  I placed it on my finger and I sensed the approval:  in the salty breeze heavy with the voices of whales and seabirds; in the sounds of the pearls and scallops that tumbled through shrimp-pink grottos.  I sensed their misty chorus:  their pelagic blessing on my marriage to the sea.

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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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The Girl’s Pearl Earring

I have always had an affinity for pearls.  It could be because the pearl is my birthstone.  Or because I once read that it symbolized “tears of joy and sorrow”:  its split personality struck me as both tragic and evocative.  Perhaps it is its silky richness – its delicate decadence.  Or just maybe it is the pearl’s origins – in the belly of an oyster, rooted in its bed far beneath the sea.

Jan Vermeer’s “Girl With A Pearl Earring” sounds like such a humble thing; yet it is a miracle of color and light. There are no lines in the painting, no harsh borders:  only subtle frontiers that are seen by the mind as much as they are by the eye.  The juxtaposition of texture and shadow is as imperceptible as the descending twilight that softens yet changes the landscape.  The touch that molded her face is as ethereal as gossamer.

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Vermeer painted with light as if it stood in waiting pools on his palette; it is the defining grace of the portrait.  It stretches in blue valleys across the girl’s turban.  It glows like a melted star from her lower lip.  It warms her moon-like face in a hushed, radiant patina.  But most of all, it is the creating force; the central, incandescent life of her pearl earring.

The singular bauble hangs like a dainty planet, stolen from its galaxy and forced to glow in metallic glory by itself.  Softly oval, the pearl’s gentle curves nestle against the acquiescent shadows of the girl’s neck.  Within it is a world of elusive prisms:  silver, brown, gold, lavender, blue.  The colors are stirred together to create an object as warm as an alchemist’s elixir yet cool enough to calm the rich flesh of a young girl.

The girl’s earring must have weighed heavily from her ear – as if it were trying to get her attention.  If she listened, what would she hear?  The painful throbbing of the steel hook that had inelegantly punctured her earlobe – the tincture of rust that now ran through her blood?  Or perhaps she heard something else.  Perhaps she heard the sound of her treasure’s parents: childless, buried at sea and softly crying.

Spring’s Ahead

In Palos Verdes, the cliffs overlook the assortment of beaches and coves like a weaving terrace of basalt and shale, layered with skeletons – the
strata of prehistory.

Climbing out of those towering deserts are bushes and trees.  Dry, salt-ridden and barbed, they harbor living creatures above the ocean, for all their inhospitality.

Not long ago I was watching the sea, standing by the cliffs, when I heard a bird singing close by.  It was balanced on a gorse bush; singing with such passion, with such blithe intensity that it didn’t notice how close I really was.  I was near enough to see the muscles of its throat fluttering, to see the small, sharp beak open to release the notes into the air.  I was able to visualize the music, tiny filigrees and arabesques twisting in an invisible fabric:  lilting and lowering, as the bird saw fit, to suit the musicale its joyous blood would dictate.

In the city, where I live, I have been hearing music too.  Pale and plaintive, it rises with the morning, a lavender echo of breaking clouds and a sunrise swathed in watercolor.  A mourning dove – always alone – rests on a telephone wire, its sadness filling the air.  All I see is the dark silhouette, but I know well the prism of its feathers:  mauve, grey and lilac:  the accepted dress colors for Victorian ladies in half-mourning.  Though there is only one, its mate is undoubtedly nearby.  Whether they are collecting materials for their nest, or scouting for new real estate, their impatient DNA urges them on.

Spring is coming.

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A Lustrous Temptation

Beneath the shore’s salty crust, under its acres of crushed shell and beaten rock, there are the remains of a building.  Beyond the masses of kelp that spread across the beach like bodies – reeking of life and iodine – there are the fossils of a forgotten design:  a distant, watery symbolism. Below the beached relics of destroyed breakwaters, architecture born of aquatic mystery rippled and sprawled.

Columns that undulated with nacre glistened in their burial-place. There were arches made from the curving bones of fishes.  Their tiny, delicate threads were evocative of lives spent weaving through the currents.  Scallops – their blue eyes closed long ago – decorated windows and doors.    When the building was alive, they would bob and bow like joyous fans:  welcoming any visitors who had made the pilgrimage there.

The walls were covered with scales – thin, painted currency of the ocean.  Tiles the colors of foam and tide created an aquatic mosaic that bounded across the now submerged barriers like ships.  Pearl and lavender, turquoise and jade, bronze and indigo – the hidden rooms had been built in the ocean’s moon-ridden image.

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But during the course of forgotten years, the earth had shrugged and shifted; as unwilling to keep still as any child.   The building sunk beneath the collapsing groundwork; its pelagic architecture suffocated by the unyielding geography.  It descended beyond the blue fog and the breath of the fishes.  It fell until it was beyond the reach of the marine air, thick with the cries of birds that embroidered its fabric with tales of hunting and horizons.

Hidden under the rubble, it was a broken and cryptic secret.  Errant footsteps scuffed its enameled ceiling, the painted witness to a forgotten court.  In places the ancient color bloomed out of the ground like shattered flowers.  A reward for imaginations that wander, a glint that beckons from the corner of the eye, it preserves the lustrous temptation of a world that exists, though it is hidden.

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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

Flight of Fancy

They stand upon their pelagic kingdoms, looking past watery acres and the silvery minions flashing their livery beneath the waves.  Noble and chaste, they balance on the currents with a white, feathery poise.  

In A Land Faraway

Boyfriend, A Board and A Bird

Wrapped in the blue air, the maritime fragrances of kelp and salt, their bodies are antediluvian and unchanged.  Their ancient plans are betrayed only when the prehistoric arms are silhouetted in the revealing sunlight.  They dared evolution, and soared over the writhing natural world below.

And when they fly over the ocean, their pale reflection melts into the waters below, like a warm frost, like a memory merging with hidden, oceanic realms.  Necks fold and bend like corsets, but the legs are free, like yellow-tipped rudders.  Their movement is slow and leisurely, a royal wave flying through the air.

A Leisurely Journey

They land on rocks, in a rush of wind and white.  They walk with disjointed grace, each limb engaging in a graceful life that is refined, but separate.  The light is creative with their feathers – in the shadow, it rides the silhouette in a single, radiant outline, then dissolves into a lavender dusk. 

Behind The Foam

 In the sunlight, they become a blast of unspoiled, blank color that blinds in its purity.

Pond Prowling

Their name comes from the French word “aigrette” – a word that also refers to the feathers that bloomed from ladies’ turbans and from their jeweled foreheads during the breathless years before World War I.  The world had discovered color, craved exoticism, and women indulged in rich shadows, paints and stolen decorations.

Fashion Demands

In 1918 a law was passed, preventing the harvesting of feathers…causing the turbans and hats to tremble, like angels when they first felt the birth-pangs in their shoulders.   Wings sprouted from their brims, alive and blood-warm with their ancient DNA.   They then flew away: back into the wild, nautical air, towards heaven, towards their kingdoms in the sea.

A Mother’s Pearl

It grew from a speck of sand, nestled deep within its mother's breast, safe inside the mothering mantle.  In the dark, layers of nacre – incandescent, transcendent – formed around the embryo and in the bivalve dark it glowed like a new star.

The mother-of-pearl was protective of her lustrous child.  She felt its iridescent warmth and the blush of its subtle color.  Though luminous and pale, in its depths swam the colors of the ocean – green, silver, blue.

She knew that many would seek her chaste birthstone, would hunt for her radiant teardrop.  She feared the harvest of her illustrious offspring and hid beneath the heavy currents, beyond the sweeping tide, behind the fish that curved like a metallic horizon.

But hands will reach far when the demand is high.  The mother was pulled from her world of enigmatic tributaries, sculpted grottos and coral islands that carved a map across the ocean floor.  She was no longer a part of the sympathetic ocean, but a stranger in a world of stinging air and a knife that with careless expertise cut the pearl out of her.

The mother had always been ugly; all of her beauty had drained into her child.  Now she was useless as well, and ready to die.  But her pearl was carried away with the other orphans.

It was put on display, a solitary fruit on a black velvet field – the better to show its pallid gleam.  All memories of the sea were polished off its skin.  It was destined to suffocate in a box along with the other tropies torn from the mysterious alchemy of a protesting earth.

And I am guilty too; I own four of these delicate prisons.

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Stolen From The Shore

When the ocean grows weary of the skeletons bounding across her floor, of the bones borne inside the rocks, wrapped within the ribbons of kelp growing stories high, hidden in coral grottos the color of hand-tinted silk, she lets them go.

She pushes them away from her.  She is an impatient mother.  Muscular waves scoop them up in their rippling embrace and guide them towards a granular shore.  Helpless under the sun, their colors pale and choke, their patterns waver.  Some, like their brethren hidden in the mountains' titanic strata are destined for burial, waiting for the curiosity of science to exhume them.

Others will wait for people like me.

I collect seashells.  They are sculptures that fit in my hand, staircases that wind down to my fingertips, fans that raise the tiniest of maritime breezes.  When I see those deserted homes scattered across the salty landscape, I bear down upon that ghostly community with all haste.  I take home whatever catches my eye:  orange scallops that can fit inside a fingernail; cones and turbans lined with iridescent pearl; clams with pink sunbursts…each day there is a new orphan.  I steal away with the elegant remains.

And once home, I will arrange them in crystal bowls, where their shapes and bleached textures soothe my eyes.  But when I hold them to my ear and listen, I can still hear the sigh of a remorseful parent. 

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