on the Fourth of July (I don’t know how to write this and I don’t know how to pray)

black and white beach

Beach

Layers of colors stripe the ocean – a worn flag, dun colored and opaque as my mother’s cameo. The sea crashes and spreads against the sand. The receding wave pulls my chair as I write in my notebook.

A gull pitches upward, a fish in its beak, fleshy, flashing white. In air, he tips is head to take it into his throat.

A piece of brown seaweed, a remnant of maiden hair, lies among the white shells.

A wave cracks and unfurls like a whip. The tiny shells cry as the water rustles through their bodies.

A toddler, her hair pulled to the top of her head with a soft fabric band, her tangerine beach top a perfect triangle, releases her mother’s grip and in her plastic beach huaraches, stomps toward the water in that awkward lock step, her arms plump like ripe fruit, extended from her body for balance. She moves toward the the green curling sea.

Prayer

Queen Mother Mary of the Sea do you watch over a Protestant at your skirts, ignorant except in the beauty of the day, the knowledge that death roils in in the strand where the water is deep, the color turns dark?

Is there room in your brood for all motherless, for the adopted, for the beggars, the homeless roamers, searching for rooms, the next beautiful room, the whitest sand, the pink cloud dimpled sunsets spread to receive?

Is this our worship? Is this the only way we know? Is this what is left us in our near nakedness except the masses of bodies as they come, the weak-kneed, the fleet? Is this all we we know, forever walking down a long white beach, talking to strangers, accepting kindnesses like birds accepting bread?

The woman who discerend answers to questions about her life from a single walk with her husband and who comes to spill her findings to her parents, and they, listening and hopeful, and I, overhearing, did she find something of you, did you reveal something of you through your graces and do you give only in secret now since we do not ask or do not know how?

Will you watch over me Mother Mary, watch over me into my fragility, watch over the birth of what I did not believe in, watch it become as solid as a flame that melts the bitterness of my heart? Will you watch me as the beauty of your grace becomes what is visible before my eyes?

Is this seaweed at my feet not the pieces of hair from maidens but your reddish brown tresses and are the shells the broken jewels of your necklace?

Will you save me in my hour of need, a Protestant, a sinner?

Mother

What did I want to do in that sailboat so far away from my mother when I was a girl, what did I hope, in the launching of it that I would accomplish, so far out from the shore, with the dolphins, the small rainbow sail snapping in the breeze, the wind on the surf side a fickle father, girding, prodding, forgetting, remembering, pushing out, always out?

I hoped my mother would worry. This is what I wanted, yes, I know that now, but she, always tanned and assured, a firm believer in Providence, was confident in larger forces, in fate, and in her daughter, who knew how to tack and come about and find a breeze and cinch a sail and use a rudder. Even when the undertow threatened to keep me off shore, she knew me to be in tune with these forces as well, to ride with them, and not fight to trust and not panic.

This is what I must believe when I disappeared from her sight for what seemed like hours, when I held to the wooden boat and cried, when the waves pounded over the sides and I was self-concerned: I must believe my mother knew the how of these things.

In my drama as a girl, what I wished her to be was a mother who panicked when I was pushed further and further along the beach as I held the boat together and fought the undertow. I was a wishful thinker and did not see the good in what I had, nor can I now, sometimes, the good in having a mother who sees no level headed sense in panicking over a capable child.

Napolean gulls

Black heads, black as coal, differentiated colors as neat as if dipped in paint, white lids. Named Napolean because of size: small grey wings with black at lips, white striation between grey and black legs. Grey looks like waistcoat at chest.

Swimmers

Three swimmers in a row in the green sea, their wake a sparkling white.

Tidepools

Where are the tidepools I lay in as a girl, which beach, and how should I find them now? No beaches in my adult life have been as prone to sea water divided off from itself, beaches where the ocean seemed to behave on its own acccord, wild, dissolving boundaries and staying behind to linger in the sun, forming small lakes for children.

Stilt House

And where is the house at the end of shoreline where my sister and brother and I lay our sunburnt bodies on hammocks while breezes rocked us. At night, inside the house after dinner, while the ocean crashed and storm raged, my father and mother and brother and sister and I danced to music and then we laughed until hilarity overtook us and we cried.

Man

He, as old as a weathered channel welk and as hunched and thin. He walks the shore looking for things to put in his baggie or is he hoping for help from the young beauty throwing a frisbie to her friend who looks at him sympathetically, who is probably wondering if he will tip, face first, onto his hat bill into the sand of the sloping shore, his brittle bones cracking there among the wreckage of shells.

Brother

And what is the best way for the family to forget the brother, now dead, who played in the stilt house? Is it to stop talking about him, rid themselves of his belongings, cease to visit the spot where he died, cease to visit the spot where he lived, cease to visit the ashes sealed behind a stone, cease to imagine would he would be like, look like, had he lived til now, cease to mention what he was like, cease to talk about him to your children, forget his friends, destroy his writings, tell yourself his laughter never was, tell yourself in fact it is is the same as the ocean at your feet, breaking and seething over the shells? Tell yourself there is no differentiated sound in all of the universe, nothing that is individual? All are one and everyone is the same and that includes the inanimate, the insensate, preconscious, unconscious, and the dead? And there is no beginning and no end and no personality and no grief and no loss and no pain? That we have dreamt this life ourselves, this reality,  and almost nothing exists unless so chosen?

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