Molly Headley (University of Oxford, United Kingdom)
There is in each moment the white-flecked flood of things – the past tossed up and beaten against sand, picked at by gulls, stony beaks snapping at fish smeared the colors of salmon and oil. Crabs flitting from under pink-shelled toes, red buckets left behind and castles dissolved with tide change, stray strands of seaweed sucking driftwood. There might be in the depths the Sperm Whale, vanished but for the scent of ambergris. Then the giant squid, elusive, preposterous, lurking beneath the cover of obscurity – the misplaced memory of the womb and what came next. The sturgeon, and barracuda, the eel with e’s like eyes, the cliffs, and currents, and scant glimpse of silver tail (déjà vu, the familiar word or face or taste, the wind blowing out the present like a curtain into an empty room,) Spielberg sharks, piranah, perch, shrimp, craw, starfish, sea cucumber, sand dollars, sex. The past tossed up and beaten against sand . . .
Everything smelling like mint, your hair, your breath, his Kansas hands. Flush, his arms held up to the light, gold hairs glowing like butterscotch, your head thrown back, white throat dove’s breast. Then later lemonade with mint on Mom’s porch, sitting in the sweetheart chair, your hair being combed, and tied, and coaxed up up up into the wedding chignon, veiled, lipstick like lignonberries, your feet small as doll’s teacakes. Him there at the end with his dark hair coiffed and blue eyes waiting, his improper smile, the promised halcyon days.
Black Sea shiny as horseshoes, Atlantic, Indian, Southern, Artic, Caspian, Mediterranean, the Pacific coastline, Oregon grey and polished opal. The white-flecked flood of things. Baleen mating off the horizon, their calls like bellows and song, your floral skirts flying out from your legs, the feel of stones under foot, or seawater underfoot, or sand or sorrow, sharp though their s’s move gentle on the tongue. Inevitably the breakers toss up froth:
Clarence. Your brother who gave you the candy-red kimono. The brother you loved the best, with his delicate face, his sudden death, his secret lovers. The way you tried to keep things together with your rough hands, pushing and folding the lives of others into origami birds. The cat-tongue velvet of mint leaves. Lemons bright as sipping sunlight. Those summers when Raymond was still alive and choke-weed crawled like fur over everything.
Boats float blithe as parcels as if they’d never known the pitch and whorl of the substance beneath . . . men sewn into their clothing and thrown to Neptune, the sinking Essex, the storming, and swearing, and warring, and births, dry spells, and wet, drought, the flood of years into years . . .
In the dark you recount each death without losing breath – Ova, and Ozzy, and the baby who might have come between Chris and Leoma, and Odele, and Chewy, and your Pastor, the bastard, the cousins went to sea decades ago. Your mother died and so did your father. And Evelyn died, and so did Clarence, and Brother Henry, and my father, and your Raymond of the black hair and eyes, who forgot your name near the end as if you’d never been there.
Sailors on deck toss knotted skeins to the sea to snag what may come – Marlin blue, and Dolphin grey, soda cans and seals, socks and sunlight, scents, and sums, the cat-tongued feel of mint.
Molly Headley recently finished her Masters in creative writing through the University of Oxford in England, and is set to graduate in November 2011. She was shortlisted for a Fulbright award in 2005 and 2006 and won 3rd prize for her poem “Remains of Water” in Beginnings publication’s annual poetry competition. She is currently working on a novel and a collection of poetry.