Archive for December, 2011

E.S. Fletcher

Dec 31, 2011 No Comments by Sea Stories

The Beautiful Sea

Ocean waves, which always soothe me to sleep from a distance, slam the jumble of rocks outside the palapa. I listen for a pattern, a rhythm, to the crescendos but detect none. I’m prepared for another sleepless night.

My husband calls my name from the rustic bathroom. “Look,” he points to the sink. “A scorpion.” It is tiny, maybe an inch long, with a curled tail that warned of danger. I lean in for a closer look before my husband washes it down the drain. “The wind must have blown it out of the ceiling,” he says. Above, a sixty-watt bulb dangles from the crossbeam to illuminate the faded gray palm fronds. Here the division between indoors and outdoors is flimsy at best.

The sheets are damp under the gauzy veil of mosquito netting. It is the dry season, yet the rains persist. By morning, an angry rash will cover my arms and legs from the mildew growing in the rough sheets and blankets.

My husband, ghostly through the netting, navigates with the flashlight to the small double bed. The cool humid air makes our skin sticky at the points of contact, and we do our best to give each other space. I watch the leaves of a scrubby bush flutter between the gaps in the woven rattan wall and try to get used to the crash and fade of the Pacific. Exhaustion finally pulls me into sleep.

The strobe effect of lightning brightens the room, followed by a deafening boom. My dream ends violently. Muscles taut, I sit up to orient myself. A constant roar of wind surrounds the hut. Rain blows through the opening at the roof beam and soaks through the netting. Lightning fractures the sky again, and my husband is now awake. He checks his watch—three a.m.

My husband shuffles to the door to survey the situation. “The surf is high but nowhere near the palapa.”

My senses tell me to doubt this, and I join him at the door. A sailboat is anchored in the cove, pitching like a broken metronome. With each untamed swell, the boat’s mastlight disappears.

Despite being attached to the mainland, the locals refer to Yelapa as an island because of its inaccessibility by car. We are cut off from everyone and everything. We have no phone, no radio, and even if we did, our Spanish is limited. The local who runs the hotel lives in the pueblo down the long strip of beach and across the swollen river: out of reach.

“What should we do?” I ask. In my homeland of warnings, worst-case scenarios and lawsuits, there would be instructions posted on what to do. Emergency sirens would alert us to trouble. We would not be left to fend for ourselves.

My husband shrugs and lays down. His breathing gradually steadies and slows. Although I envy his calm, I resent him for leaving me to wait out the storm alone. My anxiety makes the past irrelevant and the future uncertain: there is nothing else but now. I try to relax, tell myself I’m panicking over nothing. We can’t be in real danger or my husband wouldn’t have returned to sleep. Then I recall the broken, empty house just up the hill—a remnant of the hurricane that blew through three months earlier. My heart pounds erratically like the surging waves outside, even that out of my control. I wait for a strong gust to rip off the roof.

This is my fault. I scorn myself for thinking that I craved adventure. For thinking I was different than the crowds who never strayed from the well-worn paths, shepherded by guides who buffered and translated every situation. Now I envy them their dry, air-conditioned rooms and their distant lullaby of surf. What I had craved was a sterilized adventure—one without actual sacrifice or peril.

Fear pushes me to appreciate an ordinary life: making the bed with crisp sheets, shoveling fresh snow from the walks, or cooking dinner with my husband as we share our separate days. I long to return to that lucky life.

Please let the storm taper. Please hurry the dawn. I do not know to whom or what I repeat my silent mantra, but it is instinctive and comforting. It spotlights a question of faith I remain unable to answer, having become something of a spiritual tourist, exploring various practices but committing to none. Still, I picture the Catholic Church in the village: how its peach-painted walls welcomed us during these gray days, how the stone St. Francis of Assisi birdbath with holy water beckoned us across the threshold. I find myself able to translate this piece of the local language, and it brings me solace. Finally, the sky begins to brighten and the fury of the storm recedes.

I resurface from sleep to find a layer of sand, palm fragments and mummified insects blown from the thatch, evidence of last night’s tempest. My husband and I shake out our shoes for stowaways before we abandon the false security of the bed. We trudge across the damp sand as men fight with boats in the surf to unload their motley haul: bottled water, toilet paper, limes. To return to the city, and then home, we are at the mercy of the lanchero’s schedule.

We wait over breakfast. Flies skirt tortillas and black beans on my plate. I no longer bother to swat them away. I’d hoped to find paradise by lounging in the sun and sipping tart margaritas on the rocks. Instead my boundaries shifted like the dunes on the beach—I am no longer as certain of my footing. We look toward the infinite stretch of water, our eyes trained for a life-jacketless boat named The Beautiful Sea. The sun is attempting to burn through the clouds. I finish my coffee and pray for next year’s return.


E.S. Fletcher earned her M.F.A. in Writing from Hamline University. There, she interviewed Junot Díaz for Hamline’s literary annual Water~Stone Review. Her writing has appeared in The Literary Bohemian and Confrontation, and she recently read new work for “City: A Language We Speak” at the Susan Hensel Gallery. She is currently writing a spiritual memoir about her travels in Guatemala.

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Brian Jay Stanley

Dec 31, 2011 No Comments by Sea Stories

The Electric Present

Nothing is clear, but everything is significant.
-Martin Heidegger

I open my eyes to a flash of lightning: colors and forms filling the room, a sensory explosion of matter and elements. Nightstand, dresser, curtain, window. And through the window: earth, air, ocean water, fire of the sun. Light meeting eye, world meeting sensation in perfect complementarity. I sit up in bed. The ancients said that light was made for the eye and the eye for light: the doctrine of teleology. Today we say that light came first and the eye caught up with it later: the doctrine of evolution. In the deep primeval past, as sluggish organisms groped for their environment, the first eye opened and beheld the never seen world. Morning was streaming through my window while I slept in darkness, but I lifted my lids and shook away sleep so I too could glimpse this blazing incandescence.

A walk on the beach begins my day. Down the hillside path I send my two feet and five senses, past creaking, wind-gnarled trees with moss-draped limbs, amid verdant ferns and glistening rocks and blooming wildflowers whose names I do not know. Better that I do not know them, for if I knew I would say foxglove or lupine and think I knew what flowers were, whereas, untricked by names, I see stalk-shapes and leaf-shapes and purple-and-pink-dappled-greenness rising wildly and unaccountably from the ground. Stalks sucking dirt up their roots and sending delicate pink petals out their buds—a magic chemistry. The ground is growing green stalks and pretty petals in woods no path cuts through. So beauty, like light, does not await the appreciative eye. But if not mine, whose world have I stumbled into? Did God abandon creation to me? Did blind chance splatter matter into this miracle? I’d unfurl the flowers’ petals and uncoil their stems to know, for they seem like signs, but no signatures are engraved within, not in characters I can read.

The gravel crunches under my feet. Weeds wet with fog-drip overhang the path. They brush my pants leg, I feel the dampness there, begin to feel it seeping through my shoes, through my socks, between my toes. I stop for a snail in the path. Its toes would be wet too, if its foot had toes. Careful I don’t crunch you like the gravel, loitering in the path like that. Crunch and squish in the same step.

My guidebook calls the beach here a strip of desert between the ocean and coastal forest—a strip of barrenness between two zones of teeming life. Once on the beach, act and sensation: I pull off my shoes and socks, feel my wet feet sink in the dry, cool sand. I suck salt-air hard through my nostrils, close my eyes to feed on it in my brain. The flowers were silent: what will this shell say? I press it to my ear but hear only huuummmmmmmmmm. I press harder, and seem to catch a faint word in the hum: I come from across the sea. I throw the cryptic oracle down, and turn from sensation and feckless interpretation back to action: onward. Crossing a desert is toilsome, this thick sand sucks at your feet, like running in a dream. A wonder camels ever make it across Arabia. Human feet do better on this sea-packed sand. The tide covered this spot a few hours ago: hence look at me, I am standing on the bottom of the ocean.

These clouds and fog will burn off soon. Sunlight already breaking through. Portholes of blue in a steel-gray sky. Splashes of glitter on a slate-gray sea. Over the beach, mist ascending and descending. Shafts of sunlight slicing the mist sideways. Fog concentrates perception—I see better in fog. It is a veil wrapped around this moment in space and time. It tells me, there is more out there, but I am here.

Who else is here with me? I peek in a tide pool to see. Mostly anemones in this one. A strange animal to share the earth with: a slimy hole rimmed with tentacles. Fools search the skies for alien life when they could look in tide pools. Yet, if it had eyes and a slimy brain down its tentacled hole, might not this anemone say: fools search in tide pools for aliens when they could look in mirrors. Look down at these naked, knuckled, pore-pocked hands cleft into nailed fingers, at these bony, knee-capped legs bent and flattened at the bottom into feet then split at the end into stubby toes. Is this forked form any norm for measuring weirdness? Everything is weird if you look at it. In high school I would stare at my friends’ faces until their eyes, nose, and mouth seemed to unfix themselves and hover freely in place, so that I could move them around in imagination and realized how arbitrary their actual arrangement was. If an anemone did have consciousness, it would be conscious of an intolerably boring existence—an animal living a plant’s life. Waving your tentacles, waiting to see what crumbs the sea will throw you. And what if mother sea threw you nothing? You would starve upon her dry teat. We finned and winged and legged creatures deceive ourselves, thinking us masters of our fate because we have movement. Where can we move but within the world’s four walls? What can we chase but the crumbs mother fate throws in?

Nevertheless, I am glad for legs, and would be gladder for wings. If I had them you wouldn’t catch me lounging on the shore like these gulls, acquiescing to gravity. A huge gathering of them. What will they do if I run at them? They look at me lazily, assess me, begin to waddle, now flap, flap, flap, a commotion of wings, and now hundreds taking flight!—and I am running with outspread arms, I am flying with them, I am laughing and ecstatic! Already they land so close by? Foolish gulls. I will run at you again: and again waddle, wings, flight, ecstasy. Is it wrong to bother them? No matter: look at their faces, they’ve already forgotten.

No footprints in the sand. I must be the first on the beach this morning. I made footprints yesterday, but the tide washed them away. I was here yesterday, but time washed yesterday away, swapped it with today while I was sleeping. See this driftwood where it lies in the sand. It was once a proud tree. Rains felled it, rivers carried it to the sea, the sea spat it back on the shore—puppet of the water cycle. Time makes something into nothing and nothing into something, for it destroys the tree on the riverbank and creates the driftwood on the beach. It destroys and creates me too. Like the driftwood, I did not exist yesterday, for I was the tree on the river, which is to say I was another me, was that whoever-I-was that I was yesterday, not this whoever-I-am that I am today. And the world blathers and talks stupidly of time, saying “time flies” and “time is money” and hasn’t a clue what time is, this invisible medium enfolding the visible world.

I am walking forward through time as well as through space, along the beach and into the future. I can see the ground ahead but not the moment ahead. The next moment does not exist until I get there. Every second I stand at the edge of a precipice and blindly step forward, and new reality appears below me as I walk.

I cannot see where I go, while behind me I see but cannot go where I went. This present moment is malleable: I could walk north up the shore or south; put a pebble in my pocket or throw it in the sea; step on a sand flea or let it live: I hold the power of life and death over different options. Yesterday I squashed a flea for sport, saying Thus it shall be and it was, and now I cannot revoke the deed of death. Every choice I make, I am pouring possibility into actuality, and it instantly hardens.

The past is solid, the future is air, the present is liquid. I cannot move through solid; it is impervious; I am not a ghost. I cannot move through air; it does not hold up my weight; I am not a bird. I am a fish; I swim in the liquid present.

Thales of Miletus, the first philosopher, believed that everything is composed of water. Heraclitus similarly taught that everything flows. Not only earth’s oceans are liquid, but its solid parts too. Look at the wave-beaten, time-smoothed rocks: they are flowing like slow lava, they are pouring their sharp corners and rough edges into silt.

I too am liquid, both my body and mind. My cells are compartments of saline. (Try to feel them sloshing as you walk.) My consciousness dances like the whitecaps from one day to the next. I pop my crest up here, now here, now here, and I only know is, not was, for memory is not the past but merely another part of the present—an idea in the present mind-state labeled “past.” So then, I am not a fish, for a fish has bones and structure: phylum Chordata. I am a drop of oil in this world of water (or else a drop of water in this world of oil). I float on the water, I try to walk on water, but the water is slippery and so mainly I squirt about, as fate or God or the gods tilt and spin the container.

This shore crab scuttling past me is a drop of oil too. In search of a meal or a mate or safety, I presume—what other instincts are there? Noticing me, the crab pauses nervously, waiting to see what I will do, wondering am I friend or foe. At ease, I am friend. Do we not share something rare in common—this moment of existence? One by one, earth’s days fell from heaven’s hand since time’s beginning. Days accumulated into years, years into eons. Throughout the ages, you and I were but the shadow of a dream, two wisps of smoke in the phantom future. Other crabs scoured the beach, other mortals pondered the waves’ meaning. The shells of your ancestors are seafloor sediment now, and the bones of mine are humus under their graves. The present is a current of electricity flowing through the wire of time, and the current is passing here, and we are charged and glowing. Only briefly, for the current keeps flowing, the ancestral lines wind onward to raise from dust and sediment other crabs, other sea-visitors.

The crab, no longer anxious of me, scuttles off. A pelican lands on a salt-sprayed rock. A wave breaks. Look around, eyes, everything is on fire with existence. Say the date. This day has never before appeared in the history of the world nor will again. There is no such thing as an ordinary day.


Brian’s essays have appeared in The Antioch Review, North American Review, The Hudson Review, Pleiades, The Dalhousie Review, The Laurel Review, and others. They were selected as notable essays in Best American Essays 2006 and Best American Essays 2010, and have been anthologized in The Writer’s Presence (7th ed., forthcoming) and America Now(9th ed.), from Bedford/St. Martin’s Press. He holds a master’s degree in theology from Duke University and a master’s in library and information science from the University of Illinois. Brian lives in Asheville, North Carolina.

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David Liittschwager

Dec 31, 2011 No Comments by Sea Stories

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Andy Hughes

Dec 31, 2011 No Comments by Sea Stories

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Susan Derges

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Michelle Lougee

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Melanie Braverman

Dec 31, 2011 No Comments by Sea Stories

Neap Tide

It’s the season of the sea’s long pull from shore and my dog
has slipped the lead again to run full out away from me as I walk
the edge of the flats calling for her to come back. The musical
of tags at her neck mean nothing to her, out there
it’s something else she wants, not this limp bag of treats
I wave a half-mile away as if food could bring her back.
As if anything could.  Gulls drop their small missiles of shellfish
and wheel, tide so far gone my dog is a dark smudge that bounds
and recedes.  I could call it joy, but her running lives
beyond my naming, when I call her the sound of her name
as it clears the slim canal of my throat pleases only me, brants
and eiders swimming backward in the shallow bowl of bay
while my dog runs on, not for them but for something none of us can see

like the child I want but some days fear I’ll never have
is somewhere out there running too, vaporous but real as the clouds.
How will it come to us, through what means do I imagine us tethered
already to its slight formidable frame, umbilicus or some other
flexing line cast as our fishing neighbor from her deck casts daily
into the turning tide for which sometimes she is rewarded with fish
but often with only the feeling that fish will come.  We proceed
these days on faith.  I call my dog to come, hoping my voice
and everything it might mean to her will be enough to draw her
as a dousing rod is drawn to the spring no matter who is holding on.
But it does not.  She runs, pausing only to thrust her nose into the laden air,
each scent specific and urgent the way everything we’re calling
into our life caroms like dice in an open cup, swift as the spinner
on our neighbor’s foundered boat.


Melanie Braverman’s most recent book is Red (Perugia Press, 2002), winner of the Publishing Triangle Audre Lorde Poetry Award. The poems appearing here are from a book-length manuscript called “The World With Us in It.” She is a poet-in-residence at Brandeis University.

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Erica Funkhouser

Dec 31, 2011 No Comments by Sea Stories

Love Poem with Harbor View

There, splashed on the floor,
lies the light,
****helplessly yellow.
It has been out all night

****doing Lord knows
what, and now it is missing
****this morning’s addition
to your new goatee,

****the exuberant darkness
forged from a good night’s
****sleep. Outside, the ships
lashed to the wharves

****are slowly unloaded.
What do they know?
****Not even our names.
Cargoes accumulate on the quay,

****little self-absorbed cities
with eye-level skylines.
****I have woken before you.
Your are too young to sleep beside,

****and yet you sleep
magnificently, the heat pouring
****from your body’s furnace.
In damp rooms

****all over Amsterdam,
restless eyes scour every visible
****surface for reassurance.
Perhaps my questions

****are not large enough,
if they can be satisfied
****by a single peninsula
of beard. One week ago,

****like a sweep’s smudge,
the first shadow started
****below your tender lip.
Now, a field of black tulips

****prepares to unfold.
In a moment the buying and selling
****will begin. The light
will find its way

****to coffee pots and guilders
and hand-ground lenses,
****to the fruits of other lands
ripening beneath your window.

****Poor impartial window.
Poor light, with its taste
****for glitter and glass,
Poor Holland not waking in your bed.

Erica Funkhouser, “Love Poem with Harbor View” from Pursuit.

The Women Who Clean Fish

The women who clean fish are all named Rose
or Grace.  They wake up close to the water,
damp and dreamy beneath white sheets,
thinking of white beaches.

It is always humid where they work.
Under plastic aprons, their breasts
foam and bubble.  They wear old clothes
because the smell will never go.

On the floor, chlorine.
On the window, dry streams left by gulls.
When tourists come to watch them
working over belts of cod and hake,
they don’t look up.

They stand above the gutter.  When the belt starts
they pack the bodies in, ten per box,
their tales crisscrossed as if in sacrament.
The dead fish fall compliantly.

It is the iridescent scales that stick,
clinging to cheek and wrist,
lighting up hours later in a dark room.

The packers say they feel orange spawn
between their fingers, the smell of themselves
more like salt than peach.

“The Women Who Clean Fish” first appeared in Natural Affinities (Alice James Books, 1983)


Raised in Concord, Massachusetts, Erica Funkhouser studied at Vassar College and Stanford University. She is the author of several collections of poetry, including: Earthly (Houghton Mifflin, 2008); Pursuit (2002); Sure Shot and Other Poems (1992); and Natural Affinities (1983).

She was a recipient of a 2007 Guggenheim Foundation grant for poetry. She has also worked as a playwright.

She lives in Essex, Massachusetts and teaches poetry-writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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Rose Hunter

Dec 31, 2011 No Comments by Sea Stories

You As Sea Urchin

bottom feeder and bottom dweller
you were not interested in the surface
you were all surface, even as rusted anchor

corrosion: where two unlike objects meet

she means a water tank
and a page thirty-nine
stuck on it, as I am on your spines

or picturing you at your wedding
(they’re not going to show! -
if you hadn’t waited that extra minute…)

or leaning back to peel the card edge
(and only look once -
you can remember two cards, right?)

or how you tell me your feet can breathe
smashed clubs, on the glass

in front of which I am
kneeling; a kind of atonement

and confessional:
sometimes you walk on your teeth.

You As Fierce Inhabitant of Brackish Water

in the presence of decay makes
me think of your teeth and did you know I once
wanted to be a naturalist? And you
I asked, but your (sliding) answer didn’t
satisfy; what do crocodiles want?

Extinction events: your talk of all the people
who’ve died, your infernal last man crawling
a bite stronger than a shark, stronger by far
than a bear. Sluggish but when propelled
by the force of your peerless, surprise – like me

you can stomach stones: beyond your jeweled
hide, wattle bask and rivet, your grey
gradient, in the way of the slow then the quick
and ex cathedra ping-pong-ball-eyed joker

(so I’d know you were serious)
your ferocious life goes like that.
(A slip then the surface as before.)

“You As Fierce Inhabitant of Brackish Water” has previously appeared in Willows Wept Review (issue 12, Summer 2011).

Conchas Chinas

Our hinge ruptured now but still
for a time we were like seashells
I mean a bivalve mollusc
hemolymphed for a permanent low tide.

*******Remembering this

I wash the saucers first.
There is mould like drift ice
in our colours: that of the blood
bruise, the sunset and the smashed-up
eye. Then the plates,

the glasses, the cups, the
cutlery. After each taxonomy
a sink scrub and fresh crunching of
foam and bubbles to turn to
ditchwater again; a last
ditch attempt to make myself
******needed if not wanted,

more than the black bear
the runny egg, the crimson gutted
smashed-up mockup mollusc jungle
ends; his face, bilge water, as I
reach under, turning away, one
shoulder calling out to the other

how the pot that calls the bilge and the ditch
and the terracotta slaughter: kettle; and even
the saucers drying on the counter
a pale and Venetian, spring,
*******clink together what

mollusc I wanted to be, not a dead
floating in the water grasping
kettle seashells bilge
*******face it; over there;

what we once were hinges
black bear kettle saucer mollusc

so I tried to wipe that away also; had to?
The final stain?

It was red, and mine.

* Conchas Chinas, (literally, “Chinese seashells”); also a residential area south of Puerto Vallarta.

“Conchas Chinas” has previously appeared in to the river (Artistically Declined Press, 2010).


Links to Rose Hunter’s writing can be found at “Whoever Brought Me Here Will Have To Take Me Home.” Her book of poetry, to the river, was published in 2010 by Artistically Declined Press. Poems of hers have been published or are forthcoming in such places as DiagramPANKkill authorThe Nervous BreakdownanderboelimaeJukedThe Toronto QuarterlyBluestem, and others. She is the editor of the poetry journal YB, and lives in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

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Greg Miller

Dec 31, 2011 No Comments by Sea Stories


I am a skeleton

on a skeleton of white rock

slipping to blue.

A bull’s broad, angry breathing

under me, not the sea

in a cave through a blow hole,

mist lifting off the sea in sheets

that curl up, like breath:

the voice speaks what it sees

and takes.  It is one voice.

It bellows.  It wants

to trample me down.  It is free.


I pass the first calanque, its white

rock-sheltered beach, to a path between

two hills, hearing chats and serins

when I stop, pollen-dusted finches

like hummingbirds in the pine cones.

I think I’ve found a path through heaths

though I can’t call this dry rock, broom’s

bloom, and rosemary’s blue a heath.

The gray-white cliffs lift bony knobs:

the needle,” “finger of God,” wind

blasting my face.  I take another path,

still up, over the rise, until I see

Aleppo pines clinging to cliffs

across a gorge—then white rock islands–

and I don’t kneel or fall but feel

like I might fall.  Gold shoots through blue

so I see spots.

*************I take switch-backs

down the cliff’s edge back. I grab at roots.

I sit trembling on a rock shelf

myself all I’m not all I am.


Greg Miller is Janice Trimble Professor of English at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi. The University of Chicago Press has published three books of his poems, including his most recent Watch (2009), and his poems have appeared recently in Slate, The Anglican Theological Review, Spiritus, and are soon to appear in Tikkun.

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