Dive Deep Shallow Out

by Elizabeth Kirschner

It is dark and I am driving down the highway under a sky full of crows caterwauling, cawing, a crazed crowd of crows in their black priestly robes with their flawed claws and I think, yes, there is a flawed, black claw in my flawed, black heart. In the distance, my husband has closed the door behind me, slowly turning away the way he has for months, years, centuries. It is his genius to turn away and at the dinner table when I whispered, “I have to go,” he silently laid down his knife, lifted the paper, opened it as though it were a newspaper angel stained by his fingertips, the ones that have not touched me for longer than I can remember.

But this I do remember: a night on an island we ferried to on a boat with gypsies who had gold teeth, children like thin ghosts whose lips moved in prayer. I did not know this ferry would ferry us to the end of our marriage, to where I floundered on the hotel bed under mosquito netting that sizzled in the heat while I cried, pitifully so, an almost inhuman cry, like a bird whose throat has been slit. A hollow whistle went through that cry, my cries while my husband began to seethe. Then I heard it, the whoosh a guillotine makes as it drops. Did moonlight glint on its blade? Did the air start to bleed? I tell you—it went through the bed. Then the sea swept over the balcony and into the room. Suddenly, we were stranded on separate islands in that sea and I, not he, would be the one carried away for good.

Haunted by a past I have barely exited, I build a house out of books, fling seed off the bridge of sighs till red poppies bloom on wavelets, sign poems while sleeping, my hands working like the wings of origami birds. Fold by fold I make them—one thousand paper birds will save someone who is dying and since it is the human condition that we all are, foremost and always, dying, why not devote a life to the making of origami birds?

That a marriage will die, must die a long and ghastly death is not, however, a part of the human condition, except that it involves suffering and we are destined to suffer. To suffer is to die a spiritual death, but my marriage died during the battery march of staccatos, each note a bronze bullet or a pellet of brass hail and its death was not spiritual, but reptilian. In its aftermath came the music of mute doves, red poppies blooming on wavelets.

Da Chen tells me to “Dive deep shallow out,” when writing, so I go into dark libraries of water beneath the bridge of sighs, volumes of water green as psalms. Epithalamiums whisper in my ears, but mine is not among them, the one I wrote and recited after my husband and I exchanged vows. I am searching for a wrecked ship, the one we were married upon in these waters while the lighthouse swung its eye beam. Where is the ship’s ribcage, buried treasure, the deitrus of petals strewn from my bouquet? I dredge the silty depths with my fingernails, bring up warped boards, a decayed mast and boom, a wounded sail and how could I have known that sails could be wounded?

Now it is time to shallow out, to dive out of the wreckage while clutching my broken ship. Now is the time to mend the ship, tap in ivory nails, bathe the sail in my marble sink till bubbles of champagne surface, pop, the champagne I drank from in a glass, the champagne my brand new husband sipped from my satin slipper. All the while, the lighthouse swung its eye beam into us until we became two visionaries sharing one heart, one heart sweet as a peach and just as soft.

It would be a long time—months, years, centuries—before I learned that each day could bruise or that the only sacred heart is a broken one, a communion wafer snapped in half. I didn’t know then how to dive deep shallow out. If I had, I would not have walked out so abruptly, shattering mirrors and doors. If I had, I would have departed gently, lovingly, left with a kiss instead of a sting.

Haunted by a past I have barely exited, I build a house out of books, sign poems in my sleep and tend to mending the ship. When that ship is mended, nail by ivory nail, I will wade through eel grass, kneel down at the water’s edge and release it with a sigh along with one thousand origami birds. The music of mute doves will be my ovation, my long lost epithalamium, my green psalm singing in an uproar of wings because I do not seek the music, the music seeks me.

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