Two Kinds of Light
By Cheryl Merrill
Offshore, pods of orca whales hunt for seals and salmon, crabs crawl sideways like promises and scallops rest on beds of sand, the two halves of their open ribbed shells framing rows of bright blue eyes. I often walk the tideline, find whips of kelp ripped from their moorings by winter storms. Sliced into rounds, their stalks make excellent pickles.
I eat nearly all
things piscatorial: halibut, sea cucumber, dogfish, scallops, clams
(butter, manila, razor, geoduck), rockfish, octopus, squid, oysters,
mussels, tuna, flounder, sole, snapper, silverbrite and steelhead. It
says something about the eating habits in my small town that there are
two sushi restaurants. Like orcas, I prefer my salmon raw.
Unless, of course, I find thermonuclear garbage under the kitchen sink.
Lumps of ice blue light glow behind plastic walls as if tiny newborn stars had fallen in with potato peels and paper towels. My mammal brain snaps to attention. I bend down and peer in, ready to leap back at the first surge of adrenaline. One finger with a mind of its own reaches out and gives the garbage a poke.
Nails of thumb and forefinger pinch the edge of evidence and the light rises. I switch on a flashlight. Miniscule globs of gelatin stick to the waxed paper that wrapped last night’s shrimp.
I switch off the light. The gelatin exhales the cold blue breath of plankton, tiny marooned luminous lives.
Submerged, out of my depth, I stare over the sink out the window at Venus, a silver hole in the big, briny sky. Starfish eyes too numerous to count swirl around her. They wink out one by one as the brine dilutes to dawn. Venus recedes into the brightening abyss.
The blue garbage under the sink fades. Although it still glows, there is too much other light for my eyes to see it.
I rise to the day’s
surface, gulp air and drag myself ashore.
lives and works in Port Townsend, Washington. Her publications include
poems in Paintbrush, Northwest Review, Willow Springs
and others; poems anthologized in A Gift of Tongues: 25 Years of
Poetry from Copper Canyon Press; a chapbook of poems, Cheat Grass
from Copper Canyon Press in 1975; and more recent publications of a
photo-essay series about elephants in Iron Horse Literary Review
and in The Drexel Online Journal as well as excerpts from her
book in Fourth Genre, and Isotope. She is currently working
on a book about elephants: Shades of Gray.
photo by Dinty W. Moore