The Magic of Books

Photo montage: The Magical BookIlluminations

A leather-covered volume with its pages edged in gilt

Slipped from the deck into the sea but, cradled in the silt

Where oxygen could not intrude, nor prying eyes descry

Its ancient glimmer in the mud, a century did lie;

One century—another—no, nine centuries of dark

It passed in sleeping silence after falling from that bark.

And then one day, a ray of light passed through the waves above

Just at the perfect moment for a mermaid, as she dove,

To catch a glimpse of gilded pages in that sea-deep sun

And swim down to investigate this treasure—only one

Quick sparkle of that golden edge brought her so close to look,

To brush aside the lazy silt and so, reveal the book.

Nine hundred years in darkness had it lain in quiet wait

For just this passing moment to wake up, illuminate,

And catch the passing fancy of an unsuspecting maid

Who’d bring it to her grotto in the deepest ocean’s shade.

In dappled dark, her opal eyes lit up the page, and next,

She read it, eager, mesmerized, the calligraphic text

Transforming, leaping from the book, becoming swiftly wild

And glorious, and telling tales that moved the mermaid child

To bend with sorrow, weep with joy; to palpitate with fear;

To live the story as her own; and, as the end drew near,

To grieve that such a magic fable had to end at all,

For it had seemed so rich and real, had held her in such thrall

That she’d begun to think it true, this tale of mythic men

And women wondrous wise and brave—she turned to read again—

Thrice through, in fact, she read the tome, and every time the more

Believed its great, compelling tale of life beyond her shore.

Full hearted, then, she closed the book, but never ceased to wish

That other mermaids, other seas, and other sorts of fish

Than those she knew in her own place were, as the story’s, real,

And though once happy, now she longed to see and hear and feel

What was beyond her native coast. One day she must return

To where she’d found that magic book, and see what she could learn.

One day, indeed, an older lass, but nonetheless enthralled

By the old book (she’d read again six times, if she recalled),

She caught the rolling afternoon’s most fearsome wave and rode

Under its lashing, crashing crest to where the book was stowed

Within its silken, silty bed so long, so long ago,

And knelt down on the ocean’s floor, and watched the water’s flow,

And saw the ripples up above, a thousand fathoms high,

And wished a little inward wish that something from the sky

Up higher still would pierce the waves, would light for her one ray

Of visionary hope the way it had upon that day.

Out of the darkness streaked with kelp, the passing sea life came

To look at her, this pearly lass, but swam off just the same,

For curious though she appeared, they’d naught to give or tell

That would assuage her longing or relieve her of her spell.

For days she hovered in that place, to gaze with fading hope

And heave a soft and bubbling sigh, and comb the gentle slope

To see if some small, overlooked companion to her find

Would rise to hand and help explain; but none was left behind.

At last she turned, quite woebegone, to drift for home, undone,

Her childhood fantasies all dashed—but wait! A ray of sun,

One faded spear, had pierced the deep; it beckoned her to draw

Back to the place her book had lain, and in its light she saw,

But faintly, now, another book, this one yet older still,

And as she took it in her hand, she felt a silent thrill

Race up her spine. She sailed for home as swift as mantas fly,

Gripping her treasure to her heart, this book dropped from the sky.

There in the grotto, as before, she read with trembling care

The prologue to her favored tale, the key unlocking there

The meaning of that history and mystery so grand,

The explication of her longed for never-ever-land.

Page One of this tremendous tome opened the secret wide

And startled her to drop the book, for there she saw inside

The preface to her deepest loved tale of that mystic place

Began with an engraving of her own familiar face!

Around her portrait, mirror-like, the title read, in part,

“The Story of Our Lady-Queen, the Owner of My Heart.”

Her own heart skipped a beat or two ere she once more to read

Took up the opus in her hand, to see where it might lead—

There in the shell-lined grotto sweet, she pored over the lines

Telling her life from this day forth, as writ by kingly hand:

Who authored this spoke of his love, and how she ruled his land

Long years to come, and how, in sum, her people throve as well,

And in the book, she met her love, who had such tales to tell,

And read them through with eager joy, to see what else she’d learn,

‘Til by the end-page she loved too, and had begun to yearn

To know this King and how it came that time had backward spun

So that these books of things yet dreamed fell from the present sun.

The end-page held, as she had hoped, engraved once more, two eyes

Whose gaze made her young, beating heart in recognition rise!

She dashed outside into the swell, and ne’er looked back again,

To find that place the boat was moored, to greet the sailing men,

To follow them to distant seas where they in their bark would roam,

And find the heart that from its start had known she would come home.Digital illustration from a photo: The Mermaid's Tale

It was Only a Dream…

Photo: Waking UnderwaterA short meditation: The Oarsman

When I opened my eyes, I saw a cedar boat ahead, a craft of sleek and patinated wood; I was ashore, looking, watching without knowing why, standing on the verge with the clear salt sea touching my feet and on its cold breath casting up an offering of tide-polished stones and shells moved into patterns like a prayer shawl.

The cedar boat drew near, and in the boat, a man whose solemn joy preceded him and made my thoughts lie still.

Only the scent of cedar broke the salty air. I waded out to catch the prow and saw the oarsman watching me, and I was humbled but not afraid. He said nothing. I didn’t think to say a word, myself, but caught the boat and slowly pulled it ashore.Photo: The Scent of Cedars

The oarsman wore a long superlative braid that rose and fell on his breast; I made fast the boat to a spike of driftwood at the verge, tying the painter in a braid as like his own as I could make it.

When he stepped from the boat, the oarsman put his broad hand on my head, wordlessly, and I felt, too, his solemn joy.Photo: Solemn Joy

Spaceships, Time Machines, Bicycles

Photo: One for the RoadWhen I think about it, I’m amazed at how many modes of transport exist. Contrary to the fantasies popular in the middle of the past century, we’re not all traveling in levitating cars and being atomized and reassembled on opposite sides of the world. But it’s still fiction-worthy stuff that emerges when I realize we’re within reach of fully self-driven cars and can already travel at light speed, drive under the sea, and fly to the moon and, yes—more importantly—back again.

Fiction, however, has always outstripped real-world progress, as well it should. If we don’t imagine it first, how can we build it? If we didn’t travel thus in dreams, what chance would there be of our ever doing so in life?

I have invented an item or two in my time, but my ingenious machinations have never yet been realized in concrete form, at least those unrelated to my art. Still, I hold dear the idea that ideation is the necessary precedent of exciting discoveries and meaningful inventions. As silly as they may seem, then, I’m unlikely to quit developing my odd creations of the imaginary sort.

Who knows what journeys might someday spring from them?Digital illustration from photos: Time Machines

Something Fishy about That Girl

digital illustrationThe Return of Dorinda Beecher

Restless sailors far from shore seek in the stars, and furthermore,

In deepest seas, hoping to sight some change to break the endless night,

The ceaseless day, the infinite long year’s dull drone, for what’s in it

To charm the man who’s been abroad and has forgot his native sod,

Who knows no home and has no friend, just sailing, sailing to the end

Of Earth, the seven seas, the Known? Yet one such sailor, one alone,

Found in the foamy waves that dream the others sought, caught in a beam

Of phosphorescent, moonlit flash: the slightest bubbling roll and splash

Betrayed the presence of a maid; he started, would have leapt to aid

Her but that she was smiling wide, dolphin and otter at her side

Bearing her up in playful bounding swoops. He did not make a sound,

But smiled back, struck by her grace; and when she saw this on his face,

She beckoned gently, drew him on. Another splash! The sailor’d gone

And dived into the depths to meet this mystery, so grand, so sweet.

Could he? Would she? He fell in love, quite literally, from above

Her water empire, and he went full willingly, no accident

Of fate or fearsome, deathly wish: he’d rather fade among the fish

Than risk to lose this chance he’d seen to meet and mate his mermaid queen.

Once in the water, swift he sank, quite full of joy, and glad to thank

His lucky stars; he saw her swim in swiftest darts to rescue him;

She laid a soft hand on his brow–he thought it felt quite different now–

And gazed on him, and in her eyes, he saw reflected, with surprise,

That he’d become an otter, too. Yet not affronted with this view,

He thought their states a pleasant match; his mermaid queen was quite a catch.

Off, then, they swam, mermaid and men, her willing slaves not seen again.digital illustration x2This post is especially for Lindy Lee, who requested on Dorinda’s first appearance here long ago [see the link in the post title] that she might revisit us sometime.

Ashore

Islands can bring out the hermit in people, as it seems–and conversely, the social butterfly. Some who go to islands voluntarily either do so out of the desire to cut themselves off, at least partly, from social pressures and demands or come to embrace the opportunity that appears when they’ve become islanders. But involuntary islanders, the marooned (whether by shipwreck or by job transfer), can often feel contact-deprived. Suddenly people who had no particular desire for company on a regular basis feel socially abandoned and hungry; who knew?

Me, I have never lived on an island. Certainly never been set adrift and stuck on one against my will. And I happen to have pretty serious hermitage skills when I want to haven them: I’m a master at finding the quietest, remotest, emptiest corner of any place when I sincerely desire it. So I don’t generally have to wrestle through either of those dire, trying situations mentioned above. And also, I don’t really expect to run into such a situation any time soon.

That means I rather like my visits to islands, which visits are thus far entirely intentional (unless you count wrong turns onto bridges leading to them), and I like aloneness enough to seek it. Even on an island, if need be. Truthfully, though, I’m quite happy to visit islands any time I can, for holidaying purposes. Whidbey Island, Molokai, Ireland, Vancouver Island, Puerto Rico . . . I will be glad to return to these and visit many another any time I might have the chance. Let me wander inland and explore the beauties beyond the islands’ perimeters. Perch me on a rock by the shore and I will be happy, no, delighted to spend my time in good company or solitude, either one.photo