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"The Ocean in the Shell" by RoAnna Sylver
Stories say salt water is a panacea.
It washes clean a multitude of sins, stains and scars.
There are many different kinds, for different kinds of pain.
Tears for grief and silenced fury.
Sweat for stagnation and dreams denied.
Blood for blood.
(I know all about those three. Any sea witch worth their salt does.
I've given enough of my own. Given so much it hurts.
Good thing the biggest, saltiest dog of all likes to give back.)
The ocean's breaks and swells work for everything else. Before everything.
As above, so below.
Stories say danger hides far below.
Where it’s inky-dark. Cold.
Sinuous shapes slither far beneath the surface
Where the sun rarely reaches.
Where a thousand atmospheres press down on your bones, crushing your heart.
If there's air in your lungs, or light in your eyes, it doesn't stay. Nothing does.
I've met deep-down predators before. So have you. It's the same everywhere.
They think they rule the riptides, every virgin island rich with buried glories,
Soft and shiny and theirs for the taking with their bare hands.
They smell blood in the water and they swarm.
You don't want to get caught in a feeding frenzy.
Some wear pointy fins on their back; that's a dead giveaway.
Most don't. They just wear smiles, even as they bait the hook.
Sometimes, they still try to pull me down.
Bottom feeders never learn.
They don't know I am the perilous sea over which they set sail.
I am the siren storm that sinks ships,
Oceans singing through my veins, warm and sun-gleaming, golden and infinite.
I am more endless, more unfathomable
More deep and deadly than the sharks who swim through me will ever know.
And I have sharper teeth.
Stories say nothing is sweeter
Than a gentle estuary where you can open your heart, or your legs,
Or your eyes to new horizons, endlessness eternal.
Turn like the tide to find yourself reborn,
Draped in gold and crowned with stars and spiraling strings of pearls.
But red hands in the morning, never forget that old warning:
Sharp eyes are everywhere, and sharper tongues.
If you sink instead of swim, they’ll say
You shouldn’t have underestimated the storms, or the sharks.
You might as well have filled your pockets with stones.
It took a while
But you showed me
That pearls also come from pain.
A grain of sand slips past an oyster's defenses and lands somewhere soft.
The oyster builds up walls around the injury until it shines.
From trauma, a treasure.
Some nights I think our pearls were threaded on the same string.
Every legend has a grain of truth.
But I'll take the shark tales with a grain of salt
If you take me on the warm sand.
Your hands paint cycles of lunar magnetism, planet-aligning
Gravity-ending, hurricane-promise, maelstrom-singing
A kiss like the first breath, lightheaded spinning-rush, dizzy-sweet breathing
Deep down. Tide turning.
Where we’re draped in gold, crowned with stars and pearls
Endless and eternal.
Taste the sea on my lips and tell me
That in any knife-edged world,
A thousand fathoms below
Or miles above,
In the endless vault of eternal skies and gentle stars,
You'll be the fresh water that quenches my thirst.
We might be echoes in hollow shells
But when I hold your heart to my ear
I can still hear the ocean.
RoAnna Sylver wrote this poem. And also sings, voice acts, draws, has several weird genetic conditions, knows too much about Star Trek, currently writes the oddly-hopeful-dystopian Chameleon Moon series, and lives with family near Portland, OR. The next adventure RoAnna would like is a nap in a pile of bunnies.