Sunday 21 October 2018

the sea: wave 2

After a while, I started to describe my own dreams, and how this personal night-time theatre was regularly awash with a Sea bearing the flotsam and jetsam of stories and people and creatures of all kinds. The Sea’s words had stirred some sort of ‘antennae’ within me, and I wanted to share something of my own walks in mysteries, on unfamiliar shores.

“You are often there in my dreams”, I confessed, smiling a little shyly at this sudden intimacy. “So much so that sometimes I wake up drenched, my skin salty, the skin on my fingertips puckered and ridged like … prunes … or those little sand ridges that look like waves in the desert. Often when I sleep I swim, supported on your surface like a bird on a sea of air; sometimes I even walk through the forests and valleys and dunes beneath you”.

The Sea watched me for a moment, then closed its eyes slowly as I continued.

“Once while floating on my back – on your back - looking at the night sky, a zebra standing in a dinghy floated past. He was singing softly and rather beautifully from the Book of Common Prayer, from the section on ‘prayers to be used at sea’: “They that go down to the sea in ships: And occupy their business in great waters; These men see the works of the Lord: and his wonders in the deep …” When he saw me, the zebra stopped singing, and politely asked: “I’m a little lost. Do you know how to get to the Sea of Serenity?” “Um, I think it’s up there”, I replied, pointing to the moon. “Oh”, he said. We both looked up at the moon, a bright saucer of creamy blue. 

“Look, there it is”, I continued, “can you see? Between the Sea of Tranquility and the Sea of Cold. There are dozens of seas up there, as well as lakes and bays and marshes. Did you know? Beautiful names, my mother taught me. The Sea of Crises. The Sea of Fertility. The Sea of Ingenuity. The Sea of Nectar. The Serpent Sea. The Sea of Moisture. There are Seas of Islands, of Vapors, and of Showers. The Sea of the Edge is one of my favorites… And then there’s The Bay of Dew. The Marsh of Sleep …” “Oh”, he said, “oh”. Then silence as we both gazed upwards, our faces catching the light. 

After a while the zebra drifted off again, his quiet song slowly picking up again before trailing away on the breeze, little waves tapping out a rhythm on the dinghy’s hull: “For at his word the stormy wind ariseth: Which lifteth up the waves thereof. They are carried up to the heaven, and down again to the deep: Their soul melteth away because of the trouble. They reel to and fro …” I watched his stripy silhouette dissolve into darkness, then the glow of his boat’s luminescent trail - a silvery line like a snail’s track, or a con trail in the sky, until it disappeared too”.

The Sea was barely moving, comfortable now. Another pause, then I started again, my voice little more than a murmur: “Once, when swimming far from shore, dazzled by all kinds of radiant fish that seem to acknowledge me as some sort of fellow fish, suddenly I realise that something is missing. A rope trails from my ankle. I reach down and pull it in, hand over hand. I can see through the water that there is nothing there. Just a rope with a frayed knot at its end. Now I know: I have no conception of where my boat is. It has gone, and I am alone. The sky seems vast, and so does the Sea. I spin and try to stand up in the water, to see further around me, but it’s futile. So I tread water, just my head poking through the surface. The rest of me forms a tiny hole in the immensity of the Sea, a hole in the shape of me in a place with no name, a place on no known map …

“In another dream, I wade through warm surf on to a white beach and find a wooden sign on a stake driven into the sand at the water’s edge. It bears the words: “BENVENUTO ALL’ISOLA DEI NOSTRI SOGNI PROSCRITTI. M. Polo”. Welcome to the Island of Our Forbidden Dreams. There is no sign of Marco on the beach. Just a huge bird, still as a statue, a gull of some kind, staring at me with eyes like wells. Around the bird, little eddies of sand – tiny eruptions like nervous whirlpools – fizz up for a moment then disappear”.

The Sea may well have been sleeping by now, it was hard to tell. It certainly looked peaceful, and the soft rise and fall of its waters suggested a deep-breathing ripple passing through its body. So I kept talking, thinking that somehow my words were a kind of lullaby, and that if I stopped the Sea would wake up startled at the absence of the sound of my voice – like a baby or a grandparent when the conversation suddenly ends or the TV is finally turned off. Or a bit like my friends who have lived by the sea for years; whenever they travel inland, they find it hard to sleep at night without the sea’s sounds – they say that the absence of its continuous russssshhh unsettles them.

“Once I even met a blind dolphin; she floated through the air several feet above the water’s surface, under a silk umbrella. Although she was blind, she moved straight towards me and hovered above me. She softly pressed her nipple into my mouth, and I drank her milk. Don’t ask me what it means.

“In one of the dreams I remember most clearly, and it’s a recurrent one, the Sea has vanished suddenly - and completely - and its exposed bed is dotted with people out walking, inspecting what it has left behind. (Perhaps in the dream you’ve gone to the mountain to look at what everyone is looking at? Maybe. If you have, I guess what you see from up there is just a sea of people where you once were …) Anyway, so the Sea’s vanished, and there are all sorts of people out there, bent over inspecting a patch of ground, or a piece of driftwood the size of a small tree. Or a bloated purple jelly-fish, scratching at the sand around it with their feet. I can see laughing kids with buckets and spades making castles and cities, and dads sculpting mermaids with shells in their hair, and writing messages in huge letters for the sky. Huddled figures have gathered beside a pool and they stare into it in silence, as though it is infinitely deep, or the plug hole through which the Sea has departed. 

As far as the eye can see, thousands of shiny fish pulse on the sand, clasping and unclasping like fingerless silver hands. Perched on some rocks is a wreck of a wooden schooner encrusted with barnacles, its cabin draped in fine weed, like Christmas decorations; its tattered sails slap and dance in the breeze. Closer to the shore a blue yacht lies on its side, its mast pointing to the sky at an angle of, say, ten o’clock; it looks like a weird oversized sun-dial. Elsewhere there is a beached whale and its cub, breathing heavily, with a man posing for a photo next to the mother’s soft eye: as the shutter closes, the whale blinks. The air is full of birds … 

I stand transfixed on the shore watching all of this activity, too frightened to walk out on to the sea bed and join the other people. For I’m terrified of the possibility of the Sea’s sudden return. Your return … Perhaps that low smudgy strip of grey cloud on the horizon is in fact a thundering wall of water hundreds of feet high … Nobody seems to notice except me, they just carry on regardless. I stand there, trembling like a hobbled racehorse”.

By now the Sea was fast asleep, as still as oil. Not a whiff of breeze to ruffle its surface, which glistened like an infinite expanse of beaten copper in the last of the sunlight. In the silence I became aware again of this mysterious pulsing life all around me. A primordial flux. With the moon now rising, I remembered that in Greek cosmology everything begins when Eros issues from the egg of Night, which floats upon Chaos. Something like that. I half expected the zebra to drift into view. 

Having got going, I continued ...

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