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.
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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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
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
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
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.
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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I took a walk across the sands on Saturday. It was low tide: the ocean had pulled back her skirts the color of tears; the hem of her frothy petticoats teased and played across a shoreline dappled with footprints. The sand looked coarse and edible, like cooking salt: black, gray, rock, celtic, fleur de sel. The colors were pale and earthy, and they glistened in the sun under a tissue of water that puckered and evaporated in the rising heat.
The progress of the tide was marked by a thin rope of skeletons. The shells of tiny sand crabs, pink and white, were deposited in complex mounds as the sea shook her pretty dress free of their useless bones. Fragments of sand dollars, broken currency, exposed their interior chambers, their myriad pillars the color of cathedrals sleeping in the rain. The spines imprinted on their undersides branched like the fossils of forests.
I saw that the sky was pale, and the sun a melted pearl smeared across a luminous prospect. Far away the whiteness became lost in the gray breaths exhaled from the water. It became a vague horizon ready to confuse the sailors unsteady on their heaving decks, mistaking the songs of whales for the voices of their lost women.
Fetid mounds of kelp were neighborhoods for homes long vacated. Striped clams, scallops the size of a fingernail, silver and blue mussels clung to the slimy leaves with inanimate fervor. Helix shells, delicate spirals that twisted and curled like tiny marine stairways, hid beneath the uprooted gardens.
They say that the ocean can be heard inside shells – that the currents ebb and blow within their coils, canals and ribs. As I continued my walk across the sands and saw their discarded shapes I wondered if each one held their own coursing seas, their own mathematical tides. But then I wondered if they also yearned together to return to the living rhythm of the parent drumming upon the shore close by.
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