From: Little Colloquium by the Sea
Written By: Ted Deppe
(Section 1 of a book-length poem included in Liminal Blue, Forthcoming from Arlen House in 2016)
“The sea is as near as we come to another world.”
Because in a former life
I worked twenty years as a nurse
and never saw anyone
nail their exit so perfectly,
last summer, when my father
I howled and laughed,
both at once,
a death so gentle:
and living on his own
terms till the end.
And later, seated on a plane
across from a novelist I recognized
from author photos,
I watched his total concentration,
submerged in the creation
of some world
I hope to enter someday, fingers
coming down on the keyboard
almost all at once like
some sort of weather that can dash and lift
and console and break us
with a single word.
After a month of conferences,
we arrived home in Ireland
and my wife led me
into the North Atlantic.
How could I know
our hearts wouldn’t stop
when we entered those icy
waters? We splashed
the cold onto our arms,
then chests, before the plunge.
Having survived that
I swim daily now,
late into the fall, preserving
this space to somehow
be with my father, though he
would have been the first
to laugh, and I’m not sure
how I could have explained.
Approaching the beach, I stopped and watched
as a teenage girl, dignified and dreamlike
in black, approached
the water’s edge and, surrounded by family,
did her best to offer a box of ashes
to the sea. More powdery bone
fell on stones than water, but the tide
would gather it all. A man
who must have been her father.
Three boys who could be brothers. And a seal
that appeared a short way out
and gazed at them
until the family left. Finally,
I entered the water,
which was like continuing
the conversation with my father
at the same place we’d left off.
Life first stirred there,
but those autumn seas would kill me
if I stayed too long. And the seal
appeared again, sunlight on its slick
gray dream of a face, round black eyes
looking at me from that world
I could only visit briefly.
Our neighbor says I’ll be able to swim
all winter since I started in August,
as long as I go in daily.
Wasn’t it his father who said he could lift
a three-year-old bull above his head
if he started with a calf
and followed through each day?
Then first thing every morning
didn’t he do just that? And could he
really lift the bull? Oh, we’ll never know,
our neighbor says. My father
strained his back and had to quit.
From a distance I can never bridge
a seal blows air out its nose three times
then tucks its head into the water
and with a roll its body follows.
Like Elizabeth Bishop
and her seal in “At the Fishhouses,”
I’m becoming a believer
in total immersion.
I swim out to where the seal was
and find myself circled
by snowy mountains, islands
and the open sea.
Icy water makes sure I know
I am here, now,
never more present in the moment.
Memorizing “At the Fishhouses”
leads me to a photograph of Bishop’s
childhood home in Nova Scotia,
then a map locating Great Village,
and I realize that decades ago,
before the toll road was built,
our family must have driven
right past her house
en route to Cape Breton.
I find an online video clip
of someone driving through Great Village,
noting each landmark — There’s
the one-lane bridge…that’s Wilson’s
gas station. Bishop’s house
doesn’t get a mention,
but I recognize it from the photo,
right across from Wilson’s,
and I’m so absorbed
in Bishop’s world that when I get up
to make tea I think at first
I’m in Nova Scotia, in her kitchen,
and have to look about to place myself.
Strange rush of confusion
this total immersion in the there and gone.
Who’d want always to be only
in the present moment?
Ted Deppe is the author of five books of poems. A sixth book, Liminal Blue, will be published in Ireland in 2016 by Arlen House. A recipient of two grants from the NEA and a Pushcart Prize, Ted has taught creative writing in graduate programs in the U.S., Ireland, and England.
He is on the faculty of the Stonecoast MFA program and directs Stonecoast in Ireland. He and his wife, poet Annie Deppe, are dual U.S. and Irish citizens and since 2000 have lived for the most part on the west coast of Ireland.