issue 234 - August 1992
Sleepwaves and dream tides
The sea is all around us, but there is also a sea within us. Sharon Doubiago
explores the mythology and meaning of the oceans.
9TH SUMMER - Being dragged back by the undertow, being hit then from behind by an eight-footer, being thrown down, smashed down, ground face down into the gravel, crushed by the ton of water, ripped by the centrifugal force of flying stone, sucking shell, dark deafening crushing suffocating roar of water pulling you back to deep ocean, so wanting to breathe, to rise to the air, to see your parents' tent in the sand dune, to hear Mama's cries yes, yes, please yes coming now in the same rhythm and roar of the ocean, the full moon full tide sea that is rising over Pacific Coast Highway, over her body bringing your father's body over onto her.
11TH SUMMER - Paddling way out in the inner tube, eyes to the backs of the rolling glistening steel-green breakers folding over the land, exploding all the way up to the line of tents and trailers where Mama is telling Daddy yes and the ocean is the rocking of their bed, my brother and sister and I 'asleep' in the front of the 15-footer, this summer the blood is coming and Mama is instructing this is love, this is joy, this is pleasure, this is the miracle of life. I keep paddling out, further out than the sea-bleached surfer who takes my breath away, to see around Richard Dana's Point, north to LA, the whole coastline, the hidden beach, the secret: LAGUNA Beach on which Gae and I were violated by her cop-diver father, smell of his semen, sea iodine.
But then the sky turns, the air suddenly colder, the water darkening to short chops. Marine is the colour of fear: I've gone too far. But, Lifeguard within me, shell of balance, the castrated genital Scales of Love tread me back, exhausted, to the boys and men on the beach everywhere their taunts of rape, torture, murder, oblivion. But promise of love too, of pleasure and meaning, Mama and Daddy, yes. Sucking lifesavers to that surfer seaboy on the sand, my suntan.
I was conceived on Redondo Beach, in Southern California. I was born in Seaside Hospital in Long Beach. But my parents were Southerners. They pronounced 'buoy' boy. I've had the sense that el niño in the Pacific, or the Pacific himself, called them to its shore even before my conception.
They told me the sound was a boy out there
telling boats how to come in through the fog.
I listened to the waves slapping him around.
I heard his crying, his lonely orphanage in the sea.
When we fished, I cast my line to him,
I was coming
to the sea when I was born,
the buoy I heard through water and storm
was a boy calling me.1
The coming in, the going out, the longing for the sea, the longing for the land, the yearning for the Other, the pull both ways. The water is pulled away from the earth on one side of the globe and the earth is pulled away from the water on the opposite. 'There is a gravitational attraction between every drop of water and even the outermost star of the universe.'2 Tidal, meaning time. Knowing time as this, that the water will return.
The sea is like the self - does it think? Psyche in her ebb and flow, the least graspable of our existence. Which is the Miracle: we don't know who we are. Being under the sea, living or dead, is our condition in the universe. (What is the Gaia hypothesis?) In each wave washing in, so abundant with life, then drawing back, are Laws unknown, and unknowable, liberating. On the beach one's community (any time, any place), is put into perspective that is, proven less. The sea is not, will never be the unjust law of men - not cruel or stupid. It can't be tamed, controlled, or 'known.' Hallelujah! I shout to every wave washing out the possibility of getting stuck. I'm freest when a storm's big ones are hitting.
Where the two worlds meet in an ever-changing pattern of exchange I know the primal: relationship. I'm happy, I'm psychic, I'm turned-on, I have hope because I know the Other, which is God. Which is Birth, endless threshold. Seaweed of laminaria dilating the cervix, 'Mother-letter M (Ma): an ideogram for waves of water,'3 mare nostrum, the moment when the water washes back: the newborn on her belly, cord not cut, before breath. Do we not feel the Moon itself as our child, a part of our missing body, torn from Earth's side by the oscillating solar tides, the massive hole filled with our human tears, milk, blood, urine, albumin, jellyfish of uterus, abalone prostate? Water doesn't 'evolve.' It's the same water since the beginning, water of every human, animal, plant, creature who's ever lived. You never know, to paraphrase James Joyce, who you're drinking.
Living on the coast causes you to know the planets' relationships to us, Earth, her rotation as the stars set, her loneliness in space, the pull of sun and moon on her, oscillation of her ovulations, her deaths and rebirths. You can't be linear at the beach! Knowledge of the tidal cycle is essential to your survival. You tread the shore 'line' exactly as Neruda says the ancients trod it: 'that they might recognize that touch come night, come death.' To die to the sea, to die in it, is preferable, oh, huaca, temenos holy! to the hands of the mob. To the traffic at intersections. Or iatrogenic, at the hands of physicians. This is why, during the Inquisition, all the women of one German town marched singing into the sea the night before the men's schedule to burn them. When the Coast Guard searches for the drowned I'm on land praying they're never found. Let me be where all the Universe bent to bring me. Let me be fish, seaweed, salt, sea.
Neap tide, ebb tide, high tide, slack water, there is more oxygen where ocean hits land than at any other place on earth. Perhaps this explains the common experience of people who first move to the coast to suddenly 'remember' their repressed pasts, their dreams. And why I fall into their sleepwaves and dreamtides. Poets notoriously need a watery atmosphere, fog and rain, rivers and seas. Perhaps water, especially salt water, is a current, maybe electrical, like radio waves, (I don't know) that carries images, words, stories, the kind of deep thinking that motivates poetry. Souls come back in raindrops, some cultures believe, and rain comes from the ocean, which comes from our bodies. Or perhaps the rhythm of that enormous body beats at the deep muscle tissue, the deep organs, setting off the rhythm of the human body in the way stutterers do not stutter when singing.
Like Isadora Duncan who learned her dance on the Pacific shore, I learn my craft, my poetics from studying wave formations.
In Thalassa, A Theory of Genitality, the Freudian psychobiologist Sandor Ferenczi believes that with the drying up of the seas we were thrown up on the land, of neutral gender. The stronger of the species, in its longing to get back to the ocean, developed a penis by which to penetrate the weaker, thus simulating in coitus a return to the ocean - i.e., the womb.
Freudian, yes, because the desire to be the ocean is not the 'weaker position'. But the sea origin theory - we, Thalassians, taking the seas' place - asks a more essential question: what does it mean that in our present evolution we seem to be relying almost exclusively on technology, and, concomitantly, are destroying nature, maybe even our bodies?
SUNDAY MORNING, SEPTEMBER 20, 1987: We are walking through the Oregon dunes, wading across the mouth of the Siuslaw to North Jetty Beach three days after Daddy has finally died. And Mama is telling a story I have never heard before.
'On the Sunday before you were born we were at the beach at Point Fermin. We were in the rocks - there's a picture of this day. Two guys were out in a small boat, cutting up, just having a good time. I was getting a kick out of them, but I said something awful. "Serve them right if one of them drowned." Then it happened, maybe a wave turned them over. They were calling for help. Your father ran for help and I stood on the rocks, calling to them to hold on, help is coming. It went on all afternoon, it was terrible, terrifying. Then one let go. The other kept going under after him, kept trying to pull the drowned body out. I was depressed for days. You were born six days later, on Saturday.'
Déjà vu, my life with its ever theme of drowning and near drownings shifts slightly, a missing piece falling into place like a grain of sand from the dune we're walking. I had 'already seen' him.
Many of these drownings - in dream, writing, the psychic realm, and 'reality' - are explainable by my lifelong proximity to water, but if I listed here, with minimal description, the 'coincidental,' intertwined, life-changing, some inland, stories, most likely I would not be believed. Déjà vu, I pull up to a beach and become part of a drowning. Déjà vu, I camped on a beach near Chappaquiddick the night of the infamous drowning, was tormented all night by a waking nightmare of a young woman trapped in a leaking air container out under the ocean, calling me to rescue her.4
At a loss for an explanation that will fit our masculine/masculinist logic we label my experiences psychic, extra-sensory perception. I am at least communicating, however judged. But extra-sensory? My experiences always lean into the sensory - into the body itself. How do the grunion know the highest wave? The salmon their natal creek mouth? Are we not one body? Does not science know this? We begin to grasp that, strangely, we re-enact our childhood dramas as adults; inexplicably, I've re-enacted my prenatal experience all my life.
Was 'something' born in me that opens me to the calling from water? How many others heard and saw and felt or otherwise knew Mary Jo in 'dream' that night?5 Was not the water itself sending her message? Could we not have saved her if we respected this world as much as we respected the men in their spaceship on the way to the moon that same night? Would not such crimes be less? Our over-reliance on technology reduces and diminishes our naturally evolving psychic-biological evolution; we are retarded, made immoral, by our fear and hatred of Earth.
But what we could do if we turned around and embraced ourselves, Okeanus-held! From behind the wave we always swim back for the human, for our varying skin colours, tribes, cultures, geographies. For the taste of sweat, saliva, skin, semen, blood. We want tears and urine, the menstrual cycle, faeces, old-age, even death, that seed of life, the Joy of my parents' cries in our beach camps, on vacation.
OLDEST, STILL RECURRING NIGHTMARE (mare: the sea; Mary: female goddess; mer: to seize): We come to the bridge, the wide white modern one that goes over the ocean, my father driving, all my family in the car. Amazing! Men have actually managed to build a bridge across the Pacific Ocean!
But halfway over to Japan the bridge gives out. Too fast, too late to stop, to turn back, the deep, deepest marine rollicking careless happy sea oblivious to our fear, our folly, infinite miles from any life saver.
Sharon Doubiago is an American poet and writer. She considers the Pacific coast, from San Diego to Seattle, her home.
1. From 'I Was Born Coming To The Sea,' from Hard Country, Sharon Doubiago, West End Press, 1982.
2. The Sea Around Us, Rachel L.Carson, Mentor Books, 1957, P.118.
3. The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, Barbara G. Walker, Harper & Row, 1983, p.l066.
4. See 'Chappaquiddick', in The Book Of Seeing With One's Own Eyes. Sharon Doubiago, Graywolf Press, 1988.
5. Mary Jo Kopechne, drowned at Chappaquiddick.