To Be Free As a Fish, by Amy B. Scher, Los Angeles, CA www.amybscher.com
Maui, the island bragging its beauty through the fragrant scent of sugarcane, is where I first meet Anne. Her paralyzed legs are starting to move in tiny increments again. She has just returned from India, she cheerfully shares, after receiving an embryonic stem cell transplant to restore her body, and her life. By the time I arrive at the Maui Writer’s Conference and form this instant kinship with Anne, I have tried to recover from a degenerative disease 23 different ways. I know writing can’t save my life, but maybe it can save my spirit.
“Let’s celebrate with a swim!” Anne screeches, like we’re old, best friends.
I am terrified of the ocean and shamelessly admit it aloud.
“My legs don’t work and yours do!” she sings. And with that, I am in choppy waters gripping a boogie board and obeying my strict rule: DO NOT GET FACE WET. I believe if I dunk my head into the unknown, I won’t survive. Yet one impulsive move and I’m staring at hundreds of fluorescent yellow fish. It’s bliss.
Three months later, I am in India and fear is testing my sanity again. Just when I think I can’t go on, the stem cells help my body become recognizable as my own again. It’s healing.
John Ruskin said, “No human being, however great and powerful, was ever so free as a fish.” He’s certainly right—although for me, I’ve learned, freedom comes only when I make that one brave stride past fear.
Motherwater, by Charlotte Noruzi, New York, NY http://charlottenoruzi.blogspot.com/
My favorite picture of my mother is where she is standing in the Caspian Sea, holding the edges of her sleeveless white frock, which billows out strongly in front of her, like a sail. I am there too, underneath that sail, waiting in her belly. Waiting to come out and frolic in the ocean at her side.
How strange then to pass over this body of water I was brought up in, now, in an airplane years hence. Sitting in my seat, long-been-born, and alone. And with pangs in my own belly, of nostalgia, to touch down there again.
I trace sadly the airplane’s flight: approaching, hovering over, and flying past. My heart wants the plane to hover over it forever. Or at least toss out a rope ladder to the water so I can climb down and swim in it, even for a moment. Just to be close to my mother-water again. But my birthplace is distant and unimaginable. And I am displaced and afloat, bobbing in strange, new seas.
Body Water, By Millie Johanna Heur, Long Beach/Los Angeles, CA. [email protected].
I am an audacious, bodacious body. I am infinity that cannot be confined to a pool. My language can get pretty salty or brackishly bratty but it can also spew pure and sweet to the core. I am called Pacific but I am never passive. I have been deemed Superior but also Black and Erie. I can be the dainty home of Monet’s lilies or the formidable fortress of the Amazons. I can be teeming with life but also dead to the world. I can be true blue, a little green around the edges or downright brown and dirty. Sometimes when I run I fall hard and other times when I run I bubble and spring. I can fool any admirer by showing a smooth surface while at the same time having a strong undercurrent. I am a mirror to both the Sun and the Moon. I can be still and placid, raucous and turbulent. I can be cold as ice or hot and steamy. I am the audacious, bodacious body that birthed the origins of humankind. I am the audacious, bodacious body that feeds Life into every living thing on the earthy third planet from the Sun. I am water. I am a body called water and I hold the whole world in my arms.
The Numerability of It, by Elizabeth Huwiler, Elm Grove, Wisconsin [email protected]
I meet up with my brother David, who brings Sveta, his new love, his post-divorce love, for one awkward week in southern Turkey.
There is the scramble to see another beach every day or so, the rush to the Med or Aegean, stones underfoot always. And at the most touristy of them, Sveta being stung by a jellyfish.
Quieter or rougher water depending on which side of the peninsula we face, turquoise or deep brooding gray-green.
What preserves me is my ritual of walking down from the hotel to the water before meeting them for breakfast. This particular morning I am sitting on a rock, with my feet in the water, and (honest!) praying Psalm 104, with “the sea great and wide, and its living things innumerable.” Then feeling something brush over my foot, and looking down and seeing: a baby octopus!
The wealth of it, the delight of it, the exuberance of it: “living things innumerable.”
Yet this one is clearly numerable, even has numerability in its name, the eightness of its tentacles, tentacles that brush my foot, draw my eyes and my attention. This one, which my Hebrew Bible would label an unclean creature, has caressed or explored my foot, has marked me with its own non-kosher being.
(Although I’ve enjoyed and even made octopus salad.)
But for at least thirty seconds one of the innumerables has drawn my heart singularly into the fourth day of the week-long vacation.
He Smelled Like Soap, by Renée E. D’Aoust, Lugano, Switzerland http://www.reneedaoust.com/
We had sex to The Pogues. Not Journey. I drank water. He smoked pot. I wrote the personal essay for his application to a physical therapy program. He got in.
He came to my office stoned, and lay on my table. I did effleurage on his back, petrissage on his quads, and Shiatsu on his soles. I gave him one massage in exchange for two loads of laundry. He didn’t fold the clean massage sheets. He still loved his ex.
He said, “With one clubfoot, she dances better than you.” He gave me an amethyst ring.
He said, “You’re not the most beautiful woman I know.” He smelled like soap.
I went to Bernice’s Bakery for my coffee, a staple of Missoula, Montana life. The clerk said, “What rocks your world today, babe?” I held down my arm, so I didn’t punch her the fuck out.
I was in therapy: learning how to say “no” to a penis inside me, before he entered; learning how to stay in my body while having sex; learning how to stay in my body without having sex. My mouth is connected to my vagina. I met another man, and let him enter me right away.
When I opened my legs, my mouth shut. I needed the reverse: clamp my legs, and open my mouth. It was very difficult. Made harder when I entered water.
When we broke up, I played “Don’t Stop Believin’.” I still wear the jade earrings, but not the ring.
Perforated Skin, by Susan Hodara, Mount Kisco, NY susanhodara.com StillHereThinkingOfYou.com
Image by Sofie Hodara
There are days when it seems like my skin has been perforated and all the negativity floating around slips into me undeterred. Then it’s an onslaught I cannot stop, all my senses attuned to evidence of my inadequacies, my failures, my sorry state.
A seemingly curt email? I’m about to lose my job. I never deserved to have had it anyway.
The honk of a horn at my car? I don’t belong in this neighborhood. I don’t have enough money, enough clout, enough grace.
The irritation of someone in the grocery store? I am ugly and fat. My clothes are wrong. My entire heritage is wrong. My shoulders slump and I avoid my reflection.
Then, just as slyly, I find I’m okay. I wake up feeling better. If I look carefully, I can identify the antidote: usually an act or comment equally as insignificant as what had set me off. It is a relief, a freedom, permission to stand up straight and enjoy who I am.
But I am never safe. No matter how cautious I am, how guarded against the things that affect me so deeply and so dangerously, the holes remain, their covering a membrane I have learned not to trust.
By Devi K. Lockwood, traveling (Tuvalu, New Zealand, the UK) onebikeoneyear.wordpress.com
A Lake in New Hampshire
in memory of DD (1989 – 2013)
He went down in a moment,
flippers over head, to open
a freezer door he swore
was at the bottom of the lake.
No one saw him dive,
or we all did and later pretended
The blonde (not me)
deciphered his speech bubbles
as they came to the surface.
She makes extra cash wrestling
women in a bar basement
in a calf-deep pool of cherry Jell-O:
an undefeated champion. She wasn’t afraid
to dive in after him, past the roots
of the lily pads, decaying logs––
the jelly of the mud of the earth.
She found his legs above his head,
his eyes rolled back.
This from the stem of my heart:
two days later I was mourning
at a subway station alone,
watching people, expecting his face
to come up the stairs. It never did.
Before me a woman was cutting off
all her hair in pieces. No mirror.
She used a pair of orange kitchen scissors,
left each tuft in a current
of midsummer wind. Satisfied
with the general feel of it,
she stumbled into the light,
cell phone in hand, to take a selfie,
judge the quality of the results.
I will never be brave enough
to cut my own hair. Would I have
brought scissors to the bottom of the lake,
or found a pair there, long since discarded?
Would I cut off your lips
to save the rest of you?
You remember, don’t you, the sea-glass-green lake, the sand and grass and dust tickling your feet as you stood near the wooden picnic table, Mom under a shade tree, Dad at the grill, the charcoal bursting into flame, blistering the skin of hot dogs and melting the onions into sinewy brown strands? Your head is down, tilted sideways; I see only your little boy’s back, all skin and ribs. You are reaching for a potato chip with one hand, the other dragging a towel at your side. Remember how you couldn’t get the water out of your ear, how it made the crunch of those chips a soggy echo inside your skull, while the now-and-then breeze laid silk feathers against your face?
Years later you continue this ritual—the picnic at a lake, charcoals roasting the foods of summer, lawn chairs nestled under leafy trees. You didn’t know then that you would make it, you had no map for the struggle, just the tools your father left you when he died. You remember them, don’t you? The spatula and the grill, and his litany: he had the best damn kids in the world. It was enough, wasn’t it, to go on.
Big Water, Big Easy, by Lynn Marie Houston, Newburgh NY lynnmhouston.wordpress.com
Arriving, it’s not what you’d think. Your first thought is not of buildings you’d associate with land. Because no matter the pilot’s trajectory, you’re coming into the Big Easy over water.
From the triple-layered glass, you follow the rolling texture of Lake Pontchartrain. Passing over it to descend at Louis Armstrong Airport feels like the rhythm of a jazz song: the engine drone’s high-pitched melody backed by the bass line of waves, marked now and then with a percussive snap of white caps as the swells crest and break–t-tsst, t-tsst.
I leave the west bank and cross the lake heading northwest, go until there’s no more road, the last mile through a thicket of swamp reeds. The marina has a fishing pier that extends into the cove.
I was fishing at this dock one sunset when a hush came suddenly over the water, punctuated by slaps as large tails breeched the surface, as if the brackish water was that jazz drummer taking his solo on the hi-hat – tchiiiizzzss, tchiiiizzzss. Schools of small fish jumped into the air out of the way of some predator. Dark shadows sailed past us under water. One form darted underneath the dock, looking vaguely human. Someone whispered, “Manatees.” And then they were gone, the water still and silent, darkening in hue from purple to black.
Lakeside at night, the tidal pull draws your spirit to the Gulf, through the open mouth of the sea. It will swallow your ghost, be your home forever.
Ode to The Spanish Pool, by Susan Weiman, Astoria, NY http://scwnynotebook.blogspot.
Spring off the pool wall
gracefully break the surface
a quick turn upwards
side to side.
I swim in the Spanish pool
yellow, blue and white Andalusian tiles
Each a work of art.
Under the Moorish arch
The lifeguard chair sits like a throne
A small yellow star dangles above.
Across the pool is a mosaic of Neptune,
The angry god of the sea.
He rides on his unfurling cape,
Blowing fierce winds into the waters.
Yellow and blue lane lines drape the walk
like scalloped piping
on a tiered wedding cake.
a garland of flowered tiles
and the word “DEEP” appears
like a secret message or code.
Sunlight streams through the stained glass windows
Deeply relaxed, my body weightless, mind lucid.
Memory returns. Forgotten names, book titles, movies.
I am one with the water.