Catechism of the Sea
With a premonition of light the sea sang. – Octavio Paz
In those days, we accepted the spindrift from the breakers, the glitter On the high wings of birds as the bright evidence of a life everlasting. Corroboration arrives in the alliteration of waves, a tender star or two Clinging to the tassel-ends of heaven, a cloud, light as our paper souls, Cleaned and pressed like a Sunday suit. We were given to the immaculate sands The incomparable charity of the sky, and in autumn, only minor Disruptions of dust spun up at street corners, the glint from mica and the foil Of gum wrappers causing us to momentarily close our eyes—as close as we came To death, unrecognized there or in the storm troughs spiking a slate-dark sea. Our hearts were white as our uniform shirts, as the wild fields of alyssum, And I learned nothing of set theory and equations scrawled across the blackboards Was sent out to clap erasers, returning with the unequal properties of silence and covered In a powdered veil of chalk, happily, for years, taken as I was with the wobbly grandeur Of the blue. Now, so much lost, so much taken away with the absolute gravity, grind Spin and brine of every invisible law, phrases fly out the window to no one, More darkness recited among the stars. whatever I’ve been talking about No longer seems to be the point—the ocean can’t breathe, the revisions Of the past will never save us now. It’s all a fog inside me, refusing to burn off, To offer up the rote responses to the choruses of salt testifying to nothing, The nonsense it all comes to like the first day of summer and school reports For science torn from my binder and tossed onto the winds, so help me. Now alone, I see the clouds under sail, embarking out there for a port Where the air ends, where all that waits for us is the heavy ringing of The sea’s dull bells. Pick any five men mumbling in their coast, drifting On the cliff-side benches, an on-shore breeze at their unmetaphysical throats And see how many words of allegiance or joy can be squeezed out at this late date. Make something of the one palm tree whose green fronds are comparatively glorious And resist the graceless rip and under-tow— it’s just that way with God.