EXCERPT FROM OCEAN
The harbour didn’t like being held captive by the shadows
of our buildings. We treated it well but still its dorsal fins
weakened and flopped. The tide was nothing more than
a sleepy scratch of water up over rocks
and then a yawn back down. The balls we threw to it
sank. It stopped slurping, it stopped nibbling.
It hardly growled. Some days it looked like a carpet,
other days, a flooded campsite: disks of paper plates,
lipsticked cigarette butts, the wet embers
of our vacations. What was the fun of these skyscrapers
if the only view we had was a petulant body of water?
We bought fish from the market to feed it. The older women
crocheted the most tender dialogue skimmed from our dreams,
carrying afghans by the armload down to its shore.
In this way, they invented nets and managed to catch
the grit of starlight from previous nights. With the right amount
of sugar and boiled darkness, we soon had vats
of a nectar so potent it bubbled. It wasn’t that we got drunk
but forgetful and became so greedy for more, we over-fished
our dreams for their tenderness. When poverty arrived,
we were down to the bones of our talk. If we rubbed
two sticks together, briefly we’d be nourished by the smell
of their wood.
Our elders insisted the ocean was still there.
That we were born with a seed of it and when we spoke,
its waves pressed against our words for a further shore.
But we had let ourselves become sub-divided and suburban,
buckling our talk into seatbelts, mad always for safety.
When had our schedules become the new mountains?
We were doing our best to ignore how grey our memories
were becoming, how stooped and hard of hearing our laughter was.
The ocean, apparently, was right in front of us and we were dropping
like flies. We bought the dried flowertops of our politicians’
explanations. We tuned our radios to the sunsets and downloaded
whalesong overdubbed with protest songs. Our intent was good
but with airbags. The poets rigged antennas to the antique words
of gratitude with a cayenne of the unexpected but we were tired
of the poets, they were chesterfields or they were curtains.
We wanted pure ocean podcast into our veins but tethered
while we slept. We wanted death to be a stranger we’d never have to
give directions to. We consulted the beekeepers infamous
for not getting stung but they were in a meeting with the poets.
We consulted the gamblers but they wanted to see us only to raise us
ten. Our voices were rarely coming home covered in mud anymore.
Filmmakers had started making films of the ocean
in 3D. Scratch and sniff coastal cards were sold
at lottery booths. Material for dresses was cut with the froth
of tide in mind. We had wanted the ocean to be the new
flavour, the new sound. We’d drive for miles to get a glimpse
of it because, let’s face it, it revitalized the part of us
we kept rooting for, that apple seed of energy that defied
multiple choice career options. The ocean had egged the best part
of us on. And it scared us. We never knew what it was thinking
and spent thousands on specialists who could make predictions.
And the predictions always required hard hats and building permits,
furrowed eyebrows and downward trends. Why is it so hard
to trust something that leaps, disappears and then reappears
spouting more light? When had our hearts become badly behaved
dogs we had to keep the screen door closed to? Have you ever run
along its shore, the pant of it coming closer? And that feeling
that yipped inside of you, the Ginger Rogers of your feet, your ability
to not get caught then, yes, get soaked. Didn’t you feel like it was
part of your pack? When it whistled, whatever it is in you
that defies being named, didn’t that part of you perk up?
And didn’t you let it tousle you to the ground,
let it clean between your ears before it left you?
Wasn’t that all right? That it left you? That we all will?
"forty-nine,""fifty-five," and "fifty-six" published in Ocean (Gaspereau, 2013)
Sue Goyette lives in K'jipuktuk (Halifax), the unceded and unsurrendered land of the Mi’kmaq peoples. She has published six books of poems and a novel. Her latest collection is Penelope (Gaspereau Press, 2017). She has been nominated for the 2014 Griffin Poetry Prize and the Governor General’s Award and has won several awards including the 2015 Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia Masterworks Arts Award for her collection, Ocean. Sue teaches in the Creative Writing Program at Dalhousie University.
Watch Your Head is an online anthology of creative works devoted to the climate crisis and climate justice.
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