Dark Backward and Abysm

There were many stories that I had invented to explain my situation to myself: I had been sportfishing for tuna or swordfish and the biggest creature anyone had ever seen came out of nowhere and ripped through the vessel; I had been on a pleasure cruise among the lovely equatorial islands when the ship was attacked by pirates; I had been researching the variation in the salt content of the water from one latitude to another when my boat was caught broadside by a sudden giant wave.

My favorite story, though, and the one I have come more and more to believe, has something to do with a mutiny. In my first version I was the captain who because of my strictness was deposed by the crew and set adrift. This, I now believe was madly incorrect. Rather, the more I think about it, the more I reflect on my own personality (calm and genial enough), the more I examine my own moral orientation (decent, I’d say, fairminded), the more I’ve become convinced that I was among the mutineers. In which case my situation has arisen from a failed mutiny, and I find myself the victim of a terrible punishment, alone on the ocean in a ten foot boat with neither oars nor sail nor sustenance. This, I think, explains the predicament quite well.

I have, perhaps, survived longer than my punishers would have believed. The luck of beneficent currents, rain showers whose fresh water gathers in little pools in the bottom of the boat, flying fish which shoot from the ocean almost into my lap and whose flesh, even raw, is not unpleasant: these things have kept me going for an indeterminate but seemingly long time. The sun, though, is excruciating, and in spite of my best efforts with bits of clothing, I am always on fire. My best hope now is surely to happen upon some small rock with a few shrubs, with a cave perhaps, and seabird eggs in the cavities above the surf.

Sometimes faces float before me, people of whom I am completely ignorant, and yet whose features stir me to the most extreme emotions. In the depths of the night, under a swirling hive of stars, there comes a blonde haired woman with green eyes who screeches at me I deserved more, I deserved more. I think she must be somebody I loved because I think I have already died from sorrow by the time she fades into the lemony dawn.

But it is the face of the man which troubles me even more. His hard eyes glitter from his bright red well-fed face. I have come to believe he may have been the captain or first mate I attempted to overthrow. You made a fine killing, he says, the way you might say the sky is blue or two plus two equals four. He enrages me and in spite of the torture of the sunburn and the salt I lunge at him for hours until I fall into unconsciousness from pain and exhaustion. On awakening I always think about slipping over the edge of the boat and drinking my draft of ocean and letting it all be over. But for some reason I never do. I take a sip of rainwater, a morsel of fish, and I grow resolute in a way that astonishes me.

These last few days in particular, or what I think are days, I have noticed a veering and a freshening in the prevailing winds, coming more from the northwest than the west, if I’m judging right. I wake at night to find my skin cooling and hear the swish and cry of songbirds high in the starry sky. Once, after a deep sleep I woke to greet the rising sun with these words cascading over my swollen lips His state is kingly: thousands at his bidding speed, and post o’er land and ocean without rest. Was it some prayer I remembered from a childhood of gardens and churches, or was it myself speaking from the depths of whoever I am?

Tonight, this very night, I was awoken by what I took to be someone stroking my head, the woman, I thought first, with a swelling of my heart, or that man I thought suddenly, as I started to rise and swing my fists.

But no, no. The entire boat is filled with tiny sparrow-like birds, their yellow breasts pulsing with rapid breathing, their plumage madly bedraggled, and I (how crazy is this!) am their landing place between the continents: a castaway in a boat their salvation.

It is a sign, of course, an omen. I lie here quietly so as not to disturb them, myself calmed by the tremblings of their feet. I suspect that by the hour the light begins to wash along the horizon they’ll have gathered enough strength to leave. I wonder if I should keep a few of them as food or if I should just let them all go. His state is kingly, I croon to myself, thousands at his bidding speed. I have the sense that this is my time. That my boat will go where these birds go and I will know everything and I will make my claim on the future.

I stand up. They all take flight.



Ger Killeen

About Ger Killeen

Poet, naturalist, trouble-maker, Ger Killeen lives on the Oregon Coast.
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