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Lady From the Sea


So I am still wanting to keep the forum active. I've just committed an old MS to a Word Doc in order to post it here. But there is another reason for putting up this vignette or short, short story I'll explain as a postscript. Here goes.

Lady from the Sea

I met a man, one day, while fishing in the surf. I was gone below the pier to be out of the tide pool of bathers and sun worshippers who were gathered on the pier’s townward side. I wasn’t having much luck, and I was really only standing out there to feel the wave surge and the tension in my line. I had already fished through the tide’s change when I saw a man walking up, from further down the beach, as if he was a man coming back to his senses. First he materialized out of the salt air mist, then I saw how he was walking ankle deep in the water. He walked as if he was drunk with the tide’s pull and having surrendered to its motion.

He saw me as he grew nearer, and he came out to where I waded. He silently stood close by for awhile, looking out to sea. Then he turned to me, screwed up his shoulders, and he began to speak. He asked if I had caught anything. I said only a few. He asked if I had ever heard voice. I said never my own. Then he asked if I believed in God. And I replied that lately my faith had been running to deeper thing. He then started in on his story by saying as how he left his cottage early in the morning, and that he had walked as far as the inlet. As best as I can remember this is what he said.

“When I left the house this morning, and felt the water around my feet, the sun was not yet risen. There was no one else out on the beach yet, and I felt the pleasure of walking the sand and seeing the shore-life stirring in those first wide-rimmed moments. I shortly decided to walk to the inlet, hoping, I think, to prolong the pleasure of easing into the morning’s thin light hour alone. But I soon fell into a quick and steady pace that always comes with having a purpose. And so I lost the feeling anyway.

“As the sun came up I watched how the shorelife was waking. I saw the willets and pipers feeding, poking in the sand, and keeping just above the movable waterline. I saw the pelicans flying overhead, and coming from their sleeping islands in the tidal river. I watched how they, and the small terns like sea swallows, flew out over the ocean, each diving with their own kind of precision and play. I also watched the snowy egrets fishing in the shallows, and I remembered how a close friend I once knew delighted in calling them by their nickname, ‘golden slippers.’

“Further out to sea I saw a school of porpoise threading its way through the current. I remembered what the last mayor of Saigon once told me about sighting porpoise, and how it meant that good luck was coming. The school I saw was just beyond the breakers. It was probably chasing the same school of mullet the pelicans were after. And you could see the mullet in cross-cut, lifted inside the cresting waves. They were set like fan tail shadows in the water’s blue-green. With all the mullets’ quick-light energy, I had no doubt that so much of the sea could feed on them.

“As I neared the inlet, and the jetty was in sight, I happened to look out beyond the breakers. The water’s plane was raised in the fresh day’s translucent light. And when I looked, I looked again. What I saw was a thing come out of the water that lifted the sea and sky against the deepest black-purple relief. It was a whale’s tail, a great black fin raised out of the water. And it held itself for so long, so high in the air. Then it came crashing down. And the gray-green of the sea was split and held in the timeless manner.

“I stopped and stood for a long while, wondering over what I had seen. And when I resumed my steps again, my walking took on a different mood. Where it had been brisk now my walking was slow. Where it had felt sharp slapping the water, now my steps felt smooth. And my thoughts were like light dreams sifting through me. And when I reached the jetty, climbing up on the big boulders, I walked out midway to jetty’s end. I then sat down on the great granite boulders. I sat there not really feeling the ocean’s spray that was finely salting over me, except to say it felt like some gauzy material being laid across my back.

“‘You can never really know her from the outside.’ These were the words I heard this morning, somewhere between sighting the whale and reaching that pile of rocks. They were words I had heard before. I knew what they meant. But I had always thought they came from me. And this morning I was no longer sure. They seemed to come from a place deeper down then I have ever been, then I think I can ever go. And it felt as if they were coming from a place where voices could be water, where touch could be a breeze, and where urges could surface in the smell of the ripe earth. They were just that resonant.

“And what you need to know is that, before this morning, these words have come as if through layers of rock and shale. They have pounded on the brain until the keep has crumbled and the tower stormed, until I was left to see routine’s city fall away, scattering everything. Or, maybe, they have come as if on the hot winds from off the desert. And all I would feel then would be the dust clouds choking me, closing me off. But it was different this morning. This morning they came clear and sharp as if on the edge of a fish knife.

“And so while I sat on the rocks, quiet more than breathing, and looking down into the swirl of the currents, I heard them again. ‘You can never know her from the outside.’ It was when I raised my head and looked out, looking further out, and when I only faintly heard the surf breaking over. I was listening for a swell’s softer sound, and I looked out again.

“Then I saw a woman beyond the last breaker. She was half-raised out of the water. She was mounting the next great wave swell. And I heard the closer movement of her washing-in, and so still I looked again.

“She was no modern woman, she who was riding the sea. Her shoulders were round and her hips were heavy. Her hair curled around her like seaweed. With the roll of her swell closing in, I could see how her gravity was not reaching for a man’s. She was no copy having been snapped from Adam’s side. And when she reached the jetty and the shore, and just before her tide flooded the sand, I felt her hand brushing against me. And it was all there in her touch how I felt her storm and calm, her underwater sources. Then that unmistakable life scent until I knew she was the lady who comes from the sea.

“I stayed on the rocks after she had gone back out. I was no longer hearing voices. But I looked down, further down, until I thought I could see the ocean’s knots inside the swirls, the ocean’s veins below the foam. Then I stepped further up on the jetty’s ridge bone, and I dove. Then I panicked, not knowing if I could remember the ways of the ocean’s currents. And it was somewhere down there, scraping against the rocks, that the secret finally came back. And I remembered how to give myself over to the breakers without getting broken, and how to play in the undertow without getting towed under. For that brief moment I knew it all from the inside.”

When he finished his story, this shaken man of a day’s walk, he fell silent and returned to looking down inside the water. I reeled in my line, figuring that the bait must be gone. Then we walked back together to the shore. And as we came out of the water, I noticed he was looking up to where the bathers and the sun children were still playing. I thought I could see some part of what he was seeing. So many bathers having followed voices down to the sea.

Terreson

(In Gaia's Gown I copied out a passage from an ancient Roman writer's description of she who he called Isis, the Great Mother. I first wrote this short story, refined many times since, in '82. I had read Apulius's novel in '73. I am pretty sure I had forgotten the particulars of Apulius's descriptions. But it seems clear I had absorbed it, taken it in sub-consciously. I also remember that the story's plan was not deliberate. Denouement surprised the hell out of me. And there is also that, when a child growing up in Daytona Beach, the beach was my front yard, a tidal marsh river was my backyard: an evironment that has remained a primal metaphor for me. One more thing. The mythical L.D. a reader can find in Ateliers was still alive in '82. He read this piece. But for him I would have thrown it out a long time ago. First reading and he said it gave him a shiver. In retrospect I suspect L.D. was an instinctive Sufi.)

Tere
Jan/16/2010, 6:02 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
Katlin Profile
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Re: Lady From the Sea


Tere,

I can definitely see the relationship between this piece and some of your (subsequent?) poetry. Not so much of a short story as a vignette, one that works in the realm of myth. I am reminded of a comment I once read (by Bly I think) about some famous poem (can't remember who the author was: Goethe, Rilke, Eliot, someone like that) in which a man in a black coat approaches the N out of the fog on a dark city street. Bly said something like, Anyone who thinks that man is real doesn't know anything about the psyche. Which is my long-winded way of saying I thought the two men in the piece were doppelgangers. (Either that or the N has a freakishly good memory for dialogue!) You want a critique? Hell's bells, as my friend R would say, I don't know how to critique this. I can say these two paragraphs were my favorite parts of the piece:

“She was no modern woman, she who was riding the sea. Her shoulders were round and her hips were heavy. Her hair curled around her like seaweed. With the roll of her swell closing in, I could see how her gravity was not reaching for a man’s. She was no copy having been snapped from Adam’s side. And when she reached the jetty and the shore, and just before her tide flooded the sand, I felt her hand brushing against me. And it was all there in her touch how I felt her storm and calm, her underwater sources. Then that unmistakable life scent until I knew she was the lady who comes from the sea.

“I stayed on the rocks after she had gone back out. I was no longer hearing voices. But I looked down, further down, until I thought I could see the ocean’s knots inside the swirls, the ocean’s veins below the foam. Then I stepped further up on the jetty’s ridge bone, and I dove. Then I panicked, not knowing if I could remember the ways of the ocean’s currents. And it was somewhere down there, scraping against the rocks, that the secret finally came back. And I remembered how to give myself over to the breakers without getting broken, and how to play in the undertow without getting towed under. For that brief moment I knew it all from the inside.”


I especially liked "She was no copy having been snapped from Adam’s side" and the way the ocean takes on veins and sinew (though the latter isn't explicitly stated). Interesting to see this material recast in modern times, although the timelessness of the narrative remains.

Last edited by Katlin, Jan/22/2010, 6:41 pm
Jan/22/2010, 6:04 pm Link to this post Send Email to Katlin   Send PM to Katlin
 
Terreson Profile
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Re: Lady From the Sea


Thanks much, Katfriend. First for taking the time to read and then for your comments.

You are spot on in your observation. The '82 prose collection from which this comes, in fact, set out a certain approach to, what Goethe called, the Eternal Feminine. This in both prose and poetry. Hell, I've even got one poem describing a giant sky woman who stretches over a city, a poem to the Magdelane, to Salome, to the funerary figurines from the Cyclades, to Mother Night, to... You name it. The Green Girl Suite is also of the same order I think. Anyway, it all started in '82 with this collection of prose poems, vignettes and short, short stories. So many treatments when I stop to recollect, and, if I may say so, all slightly different in terms perspective.

You are also spot on with your reading of the two characters. Damn perceptive of you. I've always known the case concerning them. I knew it when I wrote the piece. But you are the first reader to comment on the relationship. I've always said you are a close reader.

Tere
Jan/22/2010, 6:38 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
Zakzzz5 Profile
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Re: Lady From the Sea


Tereson,

Excellent writer. You can write prose. Regarding Katlin's question about the narrator's memory for the dialogue, I would say it's possible that the narrator reconstructed it as best he could. The dialogue is always colored by the narrator. Do we really believe that all the Hemingway characters talked like he wrote? Notice that none of Hemingway's characters talk like Conan O'Brien?

This woman of the sea is probably related to the Llorona (Hispanic) who walks by the waterways crying for her drowned children. Different context, but similar water relationship. Anglos in Eastern Washington call her the Swamp Lady, I believe. Yes, I can see the thread running through your writing.

You can write. Have you ever written a standard short story? Maybe I should read your other pieces. Zak
Feb/6/2010, 7:33 am Link to this post Send Email to Zakzzz5   Send PM to Zakzzz5
 
Terreson Profile
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Re: Lady From the Sea


Thanks again, Zak. That's a big compliment. I know from our exchanges you know prose writing well. And, yes, I have a few short stories, maybe a dozen or so and also written in the eighties. For some reason I lost interest in fiction writing, preferring the essay when it comes to prose. But who knows? Maybe I'll take up with it again one of these days. Thanks.

Tere
Feb/6/2010, 2:23 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 


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