What I Know in the Ocean / The Good Kind of Zero

There are some things that I think about/feel/know when I’m in the ocean that don’t come to me in the same way any other time.  It’s not about surfing.  I step into the water and stand there with it swirling around my knees, or I lie on my back and float.  And things come to me.

Lo Que Es La Orilla del Mar:

It’s the end of the world and the beginning of what is after/before.   Es donde la vida eterna se toca con la vida mortal.  It is the place where now meets forever.  Right here.  Right where my feet are.  This is the place.  It’s the end.

It’s also the beginning.  It is the amniotic fluid that carries our planet which is constantly being born.

Skin:

I like to float on my back and look up at the sky.  I think about how only a thin layer of skin separates the salt water I am made of from the salt water that holds me up.  It’s those few millimeters that keep me from blending in with Everything.  On land, I am an individual.  In the ocean, I am molecules of salt water among the others.  It’s not a bad feeling.  I tried to write a poem about it but there wasn’t anything else to say.

The Feeling of Zero:

I step into the ocean and what comes to me is the feeling of zero.  Not in a bad way; in a good way.  You might call it “peace” or “balance” or something, but for me that’s those aren’t the right words.  I feel zero.  My Mennonite upbringing would probably say I am feeling “forgiveness”—but there’s no sense of relief associated with it, and no guilt.  It’s quieter.  Like zero is what I owe and zero is what is owed to me.  Like I’ve done, or am doing, what I have to do, and nothing more is required of me than to be what I am.  Zero doesn’t mean that everything is going to be alright, or the way I like it.  It means that the world was here before me, and it will be here after me, and THAT is what is alright.  I don’t need to do or become or accomplish anything in order to make things different than what they are.  Like I do not owe a debt to the Universe and It does not owe me a paycheck.  Zero.  A good zero.

And one more thing.

I walk in to the ocean, past the breakers when the tide is low.  I lie on my back and float, looking up at the clouds.  I think, “This is where I will go when I die.”  Right there.  In the ocean, past the breakers.  It’s not a major item of concern for me what happens to my body after I die—my main concern is that it happens a really long time from now.  But who are we kidding?  I don’t have children or grandchildren who will want to visit my grave.  Got knows I haven’t got a red cent to leave behind, so I don’t imagine anyone will feel possessed to bury me.

I used to think about that in the States.   “Please, when I die, take me and pour me into warm salt water.  Don’t leave me here.  If I can’t live where I belong, at least take my ashes there.”

So I float in the ocean, miro el cielo, and I wonder if this is not in some ways like lying in my grave for a while on a sunny afternoon.  Just floating.  Checking out the scenery.  Watching some hunting birds glide by now and again.   Sometimes you can see the moon. Feeling the good kind of zero.

Does that seem morbid?  I hope not.  If it does, I did a bad job of describing it.  It’s very peaceful.  Then I have to trudge back onto the sand, pedal my bike up the hill, and decide what to make for dinner.

Open Book Test: February (16 years ago), 1999

When: February (16 years ago), 1999
Where: Costa Rica
What: I’ve been married for 2 years, and every day I drive from my home, in Guaitil, to Tamarindo beach.  There, I  sett up a display table outside of a little restaurant, and sell the pottery that my husband makes.  On the weekends, I teach some English classes at the Universidad Latina.
Age:  28

The sky is so wildly blue and the ocean like a precious gem. No hour is too early or too late to be burned by the unspeakable sun. The moon by night es igual. It shines so close, so completely, that you can feel its pulse in the shadows it paints. Today is also a day of wind, so all of God’s children in the tropics are happy. All except the French people who have no customers in their restaurant. I went to the beach today, early, which was a good idea. Maybe my tan it terrible, but my soul feels good. G said he dreamed I left him for another man. See? That’s how I know he loves me. I dream that about him too.

I got SUN BURNT. Wow. God have mercy on my hide! And the nice boy in the restaurant gave me a huge free cup of boiling hot coffee. His employers always charge me for a lukewarm half-cup. I have been feeling this incredible urge to write, again. I think reading poetry for Lit. class is doing it. Praise God! And now my own adversary is myself and the schedule I have made for me. But I can keep being patient. O yes I can, and I will.

I have realized something that I will confess only because I will be dead by the time anyone else figures it out. If I were disgustingly wealthy, do you know what I would do? I am embarrassed to confess it, but I would go get this belly liposuctioned away. I would. I know, I know. What about children who never get vaccinated because their families and countries are too poor? What about cancer and AIDS? But I would do it anyway, because how can you enjoy gorgeous clothes if you have to pull them over a dumpy body? How can you enjoy good food if you’re already fat and don’t want to be? Huh? You can’t. So now I confess to myself that I am no better than the wretched people I complain about.

I am going on four years of living here, now, and you know what? It didn’t turn out at all like I expected. I never expected to have a real “job.” I expected I’d have a little house with a red floor and a kitchen like Silma’s. I expected to marry J. I expected never to cut my hair. I expected to write volumes, write letters, make beautiful pottery, listen to the frogs and owls at night. I expected to make tortillas and learn to murder my own chickens. I expected to have girlfriends, any friends.

And this is still my dream: to wake warm in the morning, to greet the sun brushing back my long brown hair, eat with the songs of birds at my table, ponder the mountains, moments, days of my life. I still dream of dusk, those few yellow moments when the mountains hum the note that calls night, and all is hushed but the whish of wind and the conversation of birds. I still dream of this and will not cease.

 

Doña Paula, Retratos de la Abuela (Retrato 1 de 3): Telarañas

“Las telarañas, allí déjelas,” dice don Chico y doña Paula no las toca. Las mira mal y mata las arañas cuando las alcanza, cuando don Chico se duerme en su silla en el corredor. “Déjelas pobres arañitas,” dice don Chico sin abrir los ojos, “que ellas comen los zancudos.”

Y tiene la razón. Las telarañas tejidas sobre la cabeza y en las esquinas de los cuartos son como una manta blanca que atrapa maleantes pequeños, ladrones de la sangre.

En la noche se escuchan cuando para la lluvia en el techo de zinc bajo las hojas anchas de la selva de palma y caimito. Como un coro de ángeles malvados, la nube de zancudos canta justamente al otro lado de los mosquiteros.

“Déjelas telarañas,” insiste don Chico y ella no toca la vela pesada y polvorienta. Abajo, la manda a Quica a sacarle un brillo cegador a los pisos y no deja entrar ni los perros ni los pollos para ensuciar.

Se sientan juntos en el corredor para tomar el café de las dos en el bochorno de la tormenta que se aproxima; comen el pan dulce que mandó la hija que se llame La Negra. Discuten amablemente sobre cuanto lloverá este año y con trapos baten los zancudos que bailan alrededor de los tobillos, dando cosquillas.

New Moon Dreams

She is not afraid by the sea in the house with no windows or doors.
The enormous blackness outside pours in like water through open spaces.
She can feel the faint breath of stars on her skin.
The rising tide rocks her in her bed and frogs sing her songs in the language of secrets.

Time evaporates like mist and she has been here forever; a thousand years by the ancient sea, asleep between sand and stars.
She will never leave.
She will always be here where her body lies sleeping in the warm black night, salt in her hair, a girl/animal curled in new moon dreams.