Love Notes to the Sea
Tempestuous—what a word! A mellifluous trip down the tongue before springing whole from pursed lips, easy to roll out like far-away thunder when we wish to lay the blame for our own misunderstandings on something other than the human incapacity to grasp at vastness. A bit of linguistic trickery—an insult wrapped in melody, a word at once bitter and beautiful, applied only to that which cuts us deep.
We call you tempestuous when we forget you are a force we cannot contain. Remind us, though we malign you. We are fickle things, gazing infinitely into our own reflections and unable to remember you when you’re quiet. We are the universe’s spoiled youngest child, and we are accustomed to trapping birds, diverting rivers and razing forests in service of our own whims, our petty conveniences. We forget the way you lap at our feet. How you allow us our stay here. How we are at your mercy.
Oh, you are merciful.
In the cold, there are periwinkles. Colonies adorn rocky coastlines and tide pools in a mosaic of striped shells, benevolent little sentinels cleaning you of algae. In return, you are so gentle with them. I’ll show you how to be gentle, you say when we tromp along your shores, believing we are the only beings to know what life is under the blue of the sky, the bite of the wind, the brightness of the sun. My waters are clear so you can see them and understand.
It would be easy to mistake them for rocks, or even shells to be pried from the gneiss and collected like butterflies pinned living to cork board. But you gave us eyes millions of years ago, and after we emerged from your depths to stumble so clumsily on the dry, we spent our time sharpening our vision. They are not rocks but snails, and their lives are not small. They clear you of overgrowth, they join with one another in ecstatic reproduction, they nourish the other creatures who call you home.
We see them, whole, sweet and serving, and we find new paths.
Far from home and in the dark, silly human bodies with our flailing limbs and fiddly dangles slide into you. We miss home because the calendar tells us we should be with our families half a world away. We pour our love into those we can be with instead. The night is warm and so are you, and somehow the people who have come before us haven’t destroyed the bay with ambient light.
Come in, come in, a pale slip of moonlight says to those of us pacing unsure on the shore.
Come in, come in, you say with each soft crest of you, those gentle interruptions to the tranquility of your rest.
Toes first, shorts and t-shirts where others are bare. As the unwieldy weights of us splash in arrival, warm and sudden flickers of blue light unfurl around our bodies. Your gift to the hesitant. We have a word for what you’ve shown us—bioluminescence. The language of science is inadequate in the face of wonder, nothing but sterility where you’d offered transcendence.
Forgive us when we chase the illumination only you can provide. Forgive us when we float on our backs and gaze into a starless black. Forgive us when we close our eyes and rock with you, singular.
We are together barely two weeks when he says, do you want to go to the beach?
We are landlocked. Two northeasterners moored in the southern midwest. The beach is six-hundred miles, two months, and an all-consuming exam away.
Yes, I say anyway.
I can press my ear to the center of his chest, where a smattering of soft, dark hair will not impede my search. Proof of life, echoing in the chambers of his slender body. Flora and fauna. Entire life cycles, birth and death in the rest between breaths. Tiny dramas for tiny organisms. He would know the names of them all. He is a good host.
I hear you, I say.
What do you hear?
I tap two fingers on his arm in time. Lub-dub. Lub-dub. Lub-dub.
My resting heart rate is slightly elevated in comparison to the average, he tells me.
There is more inside him than his pulse. I can hear the slosh of fishing boats buffeted about at the pier. I can hear seagulls punctuating the water’s calm with their greedy cries. I can hear that there are depths unplumbed and unknowable.
I am cultivating my sea legs.
Everywhere, you are touching the sky. You show the stars their own refracted light. You deliver us squalling into human hands. We don’t even thank you. But we are 60% water, and we will find our way home.