One theme. One poet. One memoirist.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


Theme for this week: Travel.

I love sea creatures. I have loved fish, certainly, since I was a child--the result of spending summers on a lake. They provided my first lessons in ecology, biology, cooking, and perhaps strangely, reproduction. As I grew older, I became more fascinated by deep-sea fish, the cruel mechanics of their evolution, the desire simply to survive. In high school, I had the opportunity to study oceanography, and I fell in love with sea turtles and sea anemones. My parents once took me snorkling in the Caribbean where I looked a brain coral and eels up close. My greatest desire is to go down in a deep-sea submersible and see some of these amazing animals in their natural habitats.

On Tuesday, my last day in Seattle, my friend Rich had to work. I popped in my headphones and walked down to the Seattle Aquarium. It is the first time I have been to an aquarium since I was very small, and my parents took me to the one in Chicago. I don't remember very much about that one, except eating some fishsticks and walking into the building. I haven't been back as an adult, so I was pretty excited about getting to spend an entire day wandering around looking at fish.
(Domed Tank, Seattle Aquarium)

It was marvelous. I had been traveling for about a week at this point, staying first with friends in Portland and then with Richard in Seattle, so I had very little time to myself. I was feeling a little out-of-sorts (as will happen to an introvert who doesn't get any time to herself) and the opportunity to wander around a new city without any demands on my time or attention was a beautiful experience. Add to that the opportunity to see starfish, sea horses, fish-eating aneomones, sea urchins, seals, otters, pelicans, clownfish, giant prawns, jellyfish, and octopi, and I was (pardon the colloquialism) happier than a pig in shit.

What fascinates me most about marine life is its combination of easy gracefulness and its strength and--frankly--terror. I love that it many species manage to be both beautiful and resilient. Adaptable. Even those species of fish that are most grotesque, the ones that live below the photic zone in the ocean and the sort of things that exist only in your nightmares--all sharp teeth and blind eyes--amaze me in their brute strength, their ability to survive despite all odds. I am captivated and stunned by the ocean. In its beauty and grace. Its adaptations and grotesqueness.



With one tentative finger I reach into the cool water
and gently prod its bony ridges. The animal--
or maybe fish?--does not move, but accepts my poke.
It is the first starfish I have seen in many years,
since my parents took me to the aquarium
as a curly-haired, serious little girl, Or, perhaps,
it was before that. My grandmother brought back
one that washed up on the shore.
She kept it on a shelf in a curio cabinet,
along with a small Irish prayerbook,
some pictures of Ellis Island,
and an icon of Saint Christopher,
with a small votive candle burning before it.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful. I like that you're traveling not only to a new place but also through time.

    One of my writing profs in college always told us to remember the "rosary in the handbag." It was his way of reminding us that the smallest details about a character speak volumes. That's the sense I get when reading many of your poems. You're good about showing the rosary in the handbag. Here, the trinkets on the curio cabinet perform this function. They tell me who your grandmother is and, by extension, who you are.