Saturday, September 24, 2016

Nereid


How my body aches!
The tyrant shore's heaviness
drugs my tired limbs.
My throat is raw from breathing in
this unfamiliar, unseen nothing.
How can I not be exhausted
from such sustained effort
merely to remain alive
in this alien world of air?
Now dawn's silent light
has snared me,
has cast a silken net
across my glistening skin,
tight and unforgiving.

How can I know
how much time has passed
since I stranded here?
A single night?
A cycle of the white and silent moon?
A thousand years?
I recall stories of others of my kind,
washed ashore and becoming something other,
both less and more than they had been.
They never returned.

But in my struggle with the tides,
with the tug and slide of currents,
with life itself,
even in my struggle with this cruel nothing,
which cracks my throat with every breath,
I am resolved.
I will not become as those
whose lives are lived
in this unfamiliar, alien world of air.
I will not become something
other than who I truly am.

And so I mark my time.
I will wait patiently in this pain of dawn
I will wait in the sun's heat soon to come
I will wait curled up, unmoving:
a silken shadow where no shadows fall.
I will wait until some kind and trusting tide
returns me to my ocean home
in a single night,
or in a cycle of the white and silent moon,
or in a thousand years.

How could I live in this alien air?
How could my feet tread this alien earth?
I am as patient as the tides,
as inscrutable as my Mother Ocean
whose child I am
forever.




Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Voice of the Ocean

Recently I visited Cape Lookout State Park on the Oregon coast:  a large peninsula which juts out into the Pacific. Standing at the entrance to the Cape I had a view of the ocean to either side, both to the north and to the south. On the north side lies a spectecular steep-sided bay which almost, but not quite, cuts the end of the Cape into an island. Being in such a place made me feel that I was standing at the edge of the world, and what lay beyond was all unknown and still to be discovered.

Now let's imagine that this landscape is a landscape made of time - which in some real sense, it is. Let's say that the coast lying to the south is the past, and the coast to the north is the future, and where I was standing on the peninsula is the present moment. This is the familiar landscape of time in which we all stand, with the past flowing through the present moment towards the unknown future. But there is another 'time' beyond this: the 'time' of the great ocean itself. To the ocean this 'past-present-future' time is meaningless. The ocean is eternal.

In that magical place that I had stood, the world around me seemed to offer me a lesson: a reminder of the eternal - and oh, how easy it is to think of the ocean in such a way! The unhurried waves role onto the wide beach, and the waves are themselves just the surface signs of the currents and undertows which flow unseen beneath. And even though the depths of that ocean remained hidden to me, the moving waves hinted at what might be happening below its surface: migrating whales on their long journey down to the southern feeding grounds (Earlier in the week I saw them spouting offshore!) and other creatures of that watery world that live out their lives in the silence of those blue depths.

Now overhead a bright harvest moon is shining, big and pale gold, the colour of ripe grain - just the way a harvest moon should look! The seasons turn, the waves which I hear from my window as I type this roll in to the wide sandy beach, as they have done for a thousand years and more, and these reflections on my visit to the Cape can be harvested. Unseen below the surface, the great whales slowly onward under the moon. In my imagination I can hear their songs echoing from the depths like the great voice of the ocean itself, and I feel that, simply because I am thinking about them, a small part of me is journeying with them through that deep blue eternity.






Sunday, September 4, 2016

On the Shore



 

Almost exactly one hundred years ago the photographer Edward S. Curtis recorded with his camera an elderly Chinook woman gathering clams on the Pacific shore. The woman, we believe, was the daughter of the great Seattle, and was known as Princess Angelina. Now a century later, just a little farther south of where that photograph was taken, I stand on that same shore gazing out over that same ocean.

That photograph which Curtis made has inspired and informed so much of my life and my own writing and poetry. It is the archetypal image of a lone woman standing on the shore. Even a short while ago and half a world away I could not have imagined that I would be standing here, but a dear friend has made it possible, and the wished-for unthinkable has happened. The pathways of our life’s journeyings, whether they are those which happen on a map or which take place inside ourselves, are in the end always unpredictable. We know this so well through experience. We make our plans and the gods smile at our naivety and send us off in another direction entirely. At times that other direction is something other than we would have wished for, and yet on other occasions – as has happened to me now – it can bring rewards the more remarkable exactly because they were unexpected.

How many other footprints have been left on this same Pacific shore where I now stand? Princess Angelina’s certainly, but also those of Sacagawea, the courageous young Shoshone woman who was the invaluable guide on the William Clark and Merriweather Lewis expeditions of exploration. It was the wish of Sacagawea to see the ocean, and – just once – she did. And what of the many 19th-century settlers who with their wagons followed the Oregon Trail west? Finally to have reached this same shore where I now stand must have seemed like a blessing indeed after facing and persevering with the many dangers and hardships of their long journey. But to those settlers the ocean also clearly defined the limits of that journey: unlike the frontiers of the land it was a frontier that was absolute. Thus far, said the Oregon shore, and no farther.

The distant waves which even now I hear from my window as I write this have rolled in from another east: from Japan, from China, from Indonesia. The ocean as well has its journeys, and the patterns of its travelling currents are more predictable than the patterns of human travels. And what of my own footprints which I leave here on this shore? They will have been washed away by those journeying waves even before today’s sun has set, and certainly long before I myself travel back home to the Netherlands. And yet I have peace and take strength from knowing that, even though our timing might be different, they at last have joined those of Princess Angelina and Sacagawea. What the waves erase so easily finds a more enduring place in the memory, and it is there that my fragile footprints in the Oregon sand will remain.