Oceans and Lakes

The impending ocean announces itself in a way that lakes do not. I’ve seen more lakes than I’ve cared to count lately; mountain lakes and manmade lakes and reservoirs and the always strange and briny Mono Lake. Rarely do these still and scentless bodies of water give you a heads up that they are there (particularly if you’re not a map watcher). You often must come within sight of their waters before you think, “Look at that, there’s a lake here.”

But the ocean is for the devout, in that you do not have to see or hear it to know it is there. Our body senses its existence. The atmosphere changes, the wind blows a new way through the car window and the air weighs more heavily around your being. It begins to smell like water—powerful, unconstrained saltwater—from many miles away. It speaks to us.

Be wild here, says the Northern ocean, and I am bundled up and unruly, flipping shells and jumping rocks and peering into every tide pool.

Relax, says the Southern ocean, and I am under the sun and into a book, my purple-patterned towel spread across hot sand.

Somewhere between these two cultures a wooden pier juts out and divides north from south. Once used for shipping, a bait shop now draws in a steady population of quiet fisherman who, in turn, pull a population of gulls who keep a close eye on the day’s catch.

I keep a close eye on the ocean. I am a girl who grew up near water, a girl who took many childhood trips to the marina with her parents, and whose father owned a sailboat, a power boat and  a handful of smaller boats – not all of which I can recall, but I’m sure I counted at least two canoes sitting in our yard before I’d turned 21. I know this as I sold them after my father passed away. A man of Native American descent named Tomas came to buy them one afternoon, carrying them away from the grassy slope where they rested upside down, and that is as far as my memory goes as it has been many years – and because the mind is funny about what it chooses to remember.

And as I am a girl raised near water, one day after weeks in the deserts and mountains of inland states the ocean was a welcome sight and sound and smell. There I stood at the shore knowing that a handful of hours south these same waters were breaking against San Diego, and three days north they would filter into the Puget Sound and swell much more gently alongside my hometown, Seattle. This realization is akin to looking up at the moon at night to know that you and someone you miss and maybe love are both under the same sky, except we are both—we are all—not only under a moon, but along this shore. Connected by currents, all types of them, both water and human.

(written summer 2014; revised for ColetteKay.com)

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Notes from the Floor

You know what I have discovered? Don’t laugh
but . . . the joy of the living room floor!
Two weeks back, moving the coffee table aside
left an expanse of freshly-turned blue rug
that beckoned: come be a child on me
and now we (Dog and I) are down here
playing with squish toys (his, not mine,
although truly everything he owns I own).

I have set up a watercoloring station
atop a local newspaper unfolded wide,
filled a plastic cup with water and brushes
and blended together the half-dozen shades
that comprise a New Mexican sky at dusk,
tumbleweeds tiny dots on the horizon
(my whale painting did not fare as well,
spreading into a seafaring Rorschach).

One day I laid on my back and listened
to guided meditations and new age music,
but have also sat with legs V’d outward,
a second mug of hot chocolate at my side,
watching halves of forgettable movies,
with predictable plots and English scenery
not thinking about who I am vs. should be
and if those people are the same (yes).

On my stomach I later read poetry aloud
to a visitor; he stoically crossed his arms
and I am not sure heard the lines about mice
blurted from my lips, nor did he join me
on the floor, nor play on the tree that fell
in the canyon. Wouldn’t anyone? I recall
that weightlessness does not belong to the
burdened. I know. I have lived there, too.

I would like to tell everyone the good idea it is
to go without furniture, how sometimes
matched living room sets (albeit comfortable)
are one of many ways we become slow adults
sliding aimlessly into cushions not unlike how
we assume college degrees, cubicles, crock-pots
and come to believe life is an arrangement
when it is in fact a nonsensical blip on the floor.

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Prayer for Spring

Three days in and your gifts,
tangible and not, have blossomed.
The earliest yellow buds peek out,
the snap peas climb and cling wildly.

Sun, we undo months of curtains
to let in your buttermilk warmth.
As your stay increases each day
so will I turn my face to the light.

Digging my fingers into potting soil,
my emerging naked feet on the grass,
the heart is ripe and swelling for you:
newly arrived season of growth, of hope.

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The Burial

One year after his death, palpably
and more quietly that when it first began
I continued to grieve in many ways.

One way: sharing a note I wrote for him.
Later, having lunch in a restaurant booth
a friend brought this up, and to my surprise

chose “emo” to describe what I’d put online,
and to tell me who I was. Who she was not.
She smiled. She almost laughed.

What do we do in the moments when
it does not seem possible to be less understood.
What do we say to mockery’s cruel face?

Ha, yeah.

Of all the conceivable responses: Ha, yeah.
Maybe he had died one year ago, but on that day
I buried him and somehow also buried myself.

(October 28, 2018)

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Girls in the Garden

Hands up with the moon
we weave between beds
flat foot to sodden ground
flowers in the dark, hiding
ourselves and the magic
–the witchcraft and illusion–
that encircles youth and
women who heal with
high mountain herbs.
Next door to normalcy but
never living in that house,
your home has long been
the alignment of the stars,
mathematics of dates and time,
the chant of spells, within
a coven that didn’t exist
there in the garden
some twenty years ago
when we raised our hands
as the midnight clock does,
all together, with the moon

(first written in 2012; revised for ColetteKay.com)

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Join Me in the Lake

Heat of summer, forever-long afternoons
of sun bearing down almost violently
have turned the lake into a warm bath.
Dark comes and this is the place to which we drive.

Four of us share this night, now a tepid oven.
Our group walks, laughing, along two edges:
where city park meets lapping water, and
where youth rushes too soon into adulthood.

The sky is black, the distant hills flicker
with neighbors’ white house lights, and
somewhere nearby is the whir of the freeway.
I do not think we can be seen

and so I remove my clothes
and wade in, up to my small naked belly
at which point I turn back to see you
still standing on the shore.

Someday when you are free enough to
revel in a night swim, then I will know,
though I will not at first say it aloud,
that I have seen myself in someone else.

(March 2, 2019)

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