The Sunday Salon: Venus Among the Fishes

Wild Sea

Photo by Krysta | Source: | Click to embiggen

They say the sea is cold, but the sea contains
the hottest blood of all, and the wildest, the most urgent.

All the whales in the wider deeps, hot are they, as they urge
on and on, and dive beneath the icebergs.
The right whales, the sperm-whales, the hammer-heads, the killers
there they blow, there they blow, hot wild white breath out of
the sea!

This week has found me reading sea stories almost exclusively, and while they have not been about whales, mostly, it’s whales and sharks that populate my dreams, gentle dreams where I’m floating on the waves, and the big mammals and big fish are my guardians.

It began with Susan Casey’s The Wave which I reviewed the other day. Wanting to stay in the world she painted so vividly with her words (though with the jarring intrusion of a guy on a jet ski looking at his iPhone for Surfline details at one point, and then never being shown to put it away before they were IN a wave – I had to wonder: does insurance for ipads or iphones cover replacement if you lose your device in 70-foot seas?), I went looking for similar tales.

I’d hoped that one of my favorite sea stories, Maiden Voyage by Tania Aebi, who, when she was just eighteen, sailed around the world in a wooden sailboat, was available for Kindle. Alas, it’s too old – it was published in 1985, when I was just fifteen, and I read it three or four years after that.

And they rock, and they rock, through the sensual ageless ages
on the depths of the seven seas,
and through the salt they reel with drunk delight
and in the tropics tremble they with love
and roll with massive, strong desire, like gods.
Then the great bull lies up against his bride
in the blue deep bed of the sea,
as mountain pressing on mountain, in the zest of life:
and out of the inward roaring of the inner red ocean of whale-blood
the long tip reaches strong, intense, like the maelstrom-tip, and
comes to rest
in the clasp and the soft, wild clutch of a she-whale’s
fathomless body.

Instead, however, I was reintroduced to Linda Greenlaw, whose name you may know from either the movie The Perfect Storm (She was Captain of the Hannah Boden then, sister ship to the lost Andrea Gail.) or as the female captain in last year’s first season of Swords on the Discovery Channel. I’d read some of her work before, and enjoyed it – the stuff about giving up long-line fishing for lobstering off the tiny Maine island where she lives – but the book I downloaded was Seaworthy about her return to long-line fishing. It’s a more detailed account of the same trip highlighted in the Discovery Channel show, with a lot of details that the show never, well showed.

I downloaded that book on Friday, and finished it just before I went to bed that night. Some people say I read too quickly, but, I don’t mean to. Really.

Anyway, I was spurred on to download two of Greenlaw’s mystery novels about a Florida police detective who quits her job and moves to Maine to be a marine consultant (and solve mysteries). I’ve only read the first few pages, but I think I’m going to love these books.

And over the bridge of the whale’s strong phallus, linking the
wonder of whales
the burning archangels under the sea keep passing, back and
keep passing, archangels of bliss
from him to her, from her to him, great Cherubim
that wait on whales in mid-ocean, suspended in the waves of the
great heaven of whales in the waters, old hierarchies.

And enormous mother whales lie dreaming suckling their whale-
tender young
and dreaming with strange whale eyes wide open in the waters of
the beginning and the end.

I also read the sample chapters of a book, a memoir, called The Cure for Anything is Salt Water which I really enjoyed. I’ve wishlisted the book, because I can’t afford another book for a couple of weeks, but if no one buys it for me, I have no issue with buying it for myself.

I’ve always had an affinity for the ocean. I was born so close to it, and lived within easy access to it most of my life, so I suppose I read these books to help me miss it less. Sometimes it works, sometimes it makes me miss the ocean, and the way the surf chases my bare toes as I dance back and forth on the sand. I miss the way my hair would feel sandy and salty after a day at the beach, and the way my skin would feel slightly tingly. I miss the ship-y tar-y smells of docks and harbors, and the sight of fishermen, commercial or recreational, coming home with their day’s catch.

And bull-whales gather their women and whale-calves in a ring
when danger threatens, on the surface of the ceaseless flood
and range themselves like great fierce Seraphim facing the threat
encircling their huddled monsters of love.
And all this happens in the sea, in the salt
where God is also love, but without words:
and Aphrodite is the wife of whales
most happy, happy she!

Last year, my mother had the pleasure of spending a day with Jacques Cousteau’s widow, taking her around places in La Paz (BCS, Mexico) and chatting with her, and she told me how very connected to the sea she felt, and how Madam Cousteau was the same.

That connectedness is stretched for me right now, but it’s an elastic stretch, not a fine filament that could break. Some day, the sea and I will be close friends again.

In the meantime, I have books.

and Venus among the fishes skips and is a she-dolphin
she is the gay, delighted porpoise sporting with love and the sea
she is the female tunny-fish, round and happy among the males
and dense with happy blood, dark rainbow bliss in the sea.

** The quoted passages in this post are from “Whales Weep Not!” by D. H. Lawrence.

The Sunday Salon: Paranormality

I’m in the middle of reading this novel called The Hypnotist by M. J. Rose, which I classify as a paranomal mystery/thriller. It’s my first read by this author, but not my first foray into paranormal fiction. I’ve been thinking though, of what my first experience with this genre was.

I think, technically, the book that got me hooked on paranormal fiction (mystery, thriller, romance, or otherwise, was one I read several times as a young girl: Ghosts I Have Been, by Richard Peck. It’s about a girl named Blossom Culp who was a supporting character in Peck’s previous novel, The Ghost Belongs to Me, but so strong was her presence in the original book, and so long has it been since I’ve read either (I mean they were published in the 1970’s originally, despite Amazon only admitting to recent reprints) that I get plot elements of both stuck in my head. I know that The Ghost Belongs to Me was actually made into a movie called “Child of Glass,” in 1978, though.

In any case, Blossom is a feisty girl from a single-parent home on the wrong side of the tracks. She’s bright, but gets into trouble because of her cleverness, and she claims to be clairvoyant, except, as it turns out, she’s not just making it up because she ends up having a sort of out-of-body/out-of-time experience and being on the Titanic when it sinks.

Even if the entire plot hasn’t stuck with me, the essence of the book has.

I guess I’ve always liked books that explore the possibility of some kind of Otherness. I’m never entirely certain if I believe in it – I mean, sometimes I wake in the night and swear my grandmother’s perfume in my room – but mostly, it’s the possibility, the wonder, the not knowing, that I really enjoy.

As Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine wrote in Into the Woods, “Isn’t it nice to know a lot, and a little bit…not?”

The Sunday Salon: Rhymes with Purple

The Sunday

Maybe it’s that I’m nine days away from turning forty, or maybe it’s just that the news has too many stories about damage from the oil spill, incredibly hot weather (and no rain), Outer Banks foreclosures, and the like, but lately I’ve been rediscovering poetry, and specifically poetry meant for children. Not Dr. Seuss, because I’m incredibly anti-Seuss, but Robert Louis Stevenson, Shel Silverstein, A. A. Milne (because he didn’t ONLY write about a certain “bear of very little brain”), and even Ogden Nash.

Well, Ogden Nash might be a bit of a stretch, because I’m not really certain his stuff is meant for children, but most of it – most not all – is child friendly, though it might spark a lifelong love affair with really bad puns.

I talked about Robert Louis Stevenson a couple of days ago, referencing his poem “My Shadow,” (which, by the way, is ALSO one of the inspiration poems for this month’s project over at, so if you’re looking for a prompt, go visit – please? ) but my favorite kid-friendly poem isn’t one of Stevenson’s and it’s not even Milne’s “Coddleston Pie.” It’s Nash’s epic offering “The Tale of Custard the Dragon,” and it begins like this:

Belinda lived in a little white house,
With a little black kitten and a little gray mouse,
And a little yellow dog and a little red wagon,
And a realio, trulio, little pet dragon.

Now the name of the little black kitten was Ink,
And the little gray mouse, she called her Blink,
And the little yellow dog was sharp as Mustard,
But the dragon was a coward, and she called him Custard.

See? Delightful. (The poem has a happy ending, of course. Well, mostly.)

Then there’s Shel Silverstein. If you grew up in the 1970’s, as I did, you probably know Silverstein’s book, Where the Sidewalk Ends which includes silly, disturbing poems like “Hungry Mungry” and “Sick,” which latter is excerpted below:

“I cannot go to school today,”
Said little Peggy Ann McKay.
“I have the measles and the mumps,
A gash, a rash and purple bumps.
My mouth is wet, my throat is dry,
I’m going blind in my right eye.
My tonsils are as big as rocks,
I’ve counted sixteen chicken pox
And there’s one more-that’s seventeen,
And don’t you think my face looks green?”

And of course, I love Lewis Carroll’s verse almost as much as I love his stories, but one of my favorite childhood poems is actually a musical. It’s called Really Rosie and it’s based on the Nutshell Library books by Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are with music by Carole King. Seriously! Carole King! It includes one of the best alphabet songs ever, “Alligators All Around,” which goes like this:

A – alligators all around
B – bursting balloons
C – catching colds
D – doing dishes
E – entertaining elephants
F – forever fooling
G – getting giggles
H – having headaches
I – imitating Indians
J – juggling jellybeans
K – keeping kangaroos
L – looking like lions
M – making macaroni
N – never napping
O – ordering oatmeal
P – pushing people
Q – quite quarrelsome
R – riding reindeer
S – shockingly spoiled
T – throwing tantrums
U – usually upside down
V – very vain
W – wearing wigs
X – x-ing x’s
Y – yackety-yacking
Z – zippity zound
A – alligators ALL around!

The entire musical was made into an animated special in 1975. Here’s a clip:

Despite the fact that I don’t have children, and the dogs refuse to learn to read, I do have an extensive collection of children’s books, mainly left over from my own childhood. This week, I might have to re-read some of the poetry in that collection.