Godless Sea Goddess

by R. Nemo Hill

When he left the beach the sea was still going on .
—Derek Walcott

The airplane banks soon after launch, revealing
the strip of coastline I’ve just left behind.
Its ribbon lies unraveling, unreeling
between deep blue and green—a thin gold line
dividing waves of space, as well as time.
This schedule of departure and arrival—
these pasts—these futures—rhythmically aligned—
assail each present moment with the tidal
persistence of erosion and decline.
Some hours ago upon that shift of sand
I stood and stared in silence out to sea— 
that windy strand ... that little spit of land ...
reduced, from here, to this pale track I see
engraved upon one blue immensity.

No trace remains of idle, witless throng—
those vacantly vacationing below.
Their tropicolored bath-towel scrawl is gone,
their plastic trash, their sweat-stained radio—
their shallow splash drowned by deep indigo.
Brief hours of leisure—purchased, perfect, packaged—
elapsed and now erased.  The distance shows
this surfside stretch swept clean of all their baggage.
The picture postcard’s empty now— Although
like spots of fire branding both my eyes
when I’ve stared too directly at this sun,
her image lingers, burned into my mind,
and even from this distance leaves me stunned:
Divine icon—? Or tourist simpleton—?

With jello-yellow flippered feet, her hair
dark seaweed dripping down, her pleasure-seeking
all smooth and tanned and smiling in the glare
of youth and bright consumption, breathless, shrieking
with adolescent laughter, she is creeping
(so as not to trip her flippers in the sand)
ass-backward towards the sea: Venus retreating,
returning now—a young girl from Japan
with rubber raft inflated—breakers beating
behind her—while above her in the sky,
a hollow stitchery of jet exhaust,
of launching and of landing amplified,
of desperate arcs of flight briefly embossed
upon those clouds behind which they’re soon lost.

I still recall this coastline years ago
before the tourist dollar had invaded.
No road along the beach, no bungalows
with five-star sunset cocktail views blockaded
to keep the leisured classes segregated.
The jungle which crept right down to the shore
to meet the surf has now been relegated
to one page of the tropical brochure—
the hotel garden’s wild palms amputated.
And yet the sea itself still draws me here
almost against my will—here where its power,
though muddied by cliché, can engineer
in our most stale and its most stormy hour
the rebirth of the drowned and the devoured.

It re-mythologizes the mundane.
Its Foam-Born Goddess, swallowed now by scum,
will be re-baptized.  She will rise again!
And flush with candy wrappers, cans, and condoms
(as once with sunken continents and kingdoms),
bejeweled with bits of styrofoam and plastic,
and redolent of rare petroleum—
this sea can withstand both our most sarcastic
and our most reverent encomium!
This beach with its adjacent airport access:
a temple—where corrupt humanity
pays homage to its backwashed web-toed princess.
Benign burlesque—? Divine profanity—?
Both swallowed by one blue inanity.

 

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