The story was in the paper with a photo I hardly recognized, but it was him all right.  I hadn’t seen or heard of him for many years but no day passed without me thinking of him.  It wasn’t obsessive, like he was something I couldn’t solve or something painful.   Just something would happen or I’d see something or even there might be a voice on the radio or TV and I’d just flash Joey for a minute.  A boyhood memory.

But sometimes it was really intense as though I’d teleported back in time to the old neighborhood.  There were maybe four of us guys who were about the same age.  It was the Fifties and Cub Scouts were the thing but that was only part of what we did together.  It wasn’t like today where everything was organized.  More or less we just went out exploring and found things to do.  Could have had a ball and played a little catch or something.  Maybe found a good place to make a cave in the side of a dry stream bed.  Or maybe there was an apple tree that wasn’t too green to eat — or if the apples were too green they still made good missiles to lob at each other.

Joey was the smallest of us but the boldest, which was kind of crazy because of his old man.  His old man was a beater.  We could hear Joey screaming and even the belt hitting him if it was summer and the windows were open.  All our dads gave us a licking now and then.  I’ve read about lots of famous men whose fathers beat them when they were kids.  But there was something really scary about these beatings, as though Joey’s dad were possessed or something.  He couldn’t seem to stop.  And we never really understood why.  What was so awful that Joey would have to be beaten like somebody in the movies tied to a wagon wheel?

But it didn’t have much effect on Joey anyway.  In fact, it seemed as though he just set his mind to defy his monster father and go on doing whatever it was double.  He could not be controlled by beatings.  We wondered why his mom didn’t stop them.  We’d sit out in the yard in a little huddle and listen, waiting for Joey to come out to prove he hadn’t died.  We never thought of calling the cops.  We never even thought of telling our folks.  What could they do either?  Families didn’t mess in each other’s business.  Anyway, the grownups in the neighborhood had to know.  If they didn’t do anything about it, then it must be acceptable, right?

One night I snuck out of my house.  No particular reason.  I just could so I did.  My folks didn’t keep track of me that close.  Anyway, they were having a big fight and wouldn’t have noticed if the house had caught on fire.  So I was wandering around the backyards along the street and then over towards the arboretum.  My dog came along.  Otherwise I probably wouldn’t have found Joey.

My dog liked Joey and went over to this bundle or something.  I could hear a little noise and then saw that it was Joey with his knees drawn up, hiding his face and not quite crying.  More like whimpering.  My dog licked his ears and he realized I was there.  I sat down beside him in the grass.  I didn’t say anything.  What was there to say?  I threw my arm over his shoulders and held him.

Pretty soon we lay back on the grass and there we were with our arms around each other like lovers with my dog lying alongside.  I kissed Joey’s face which was soft and hardly salty and I kissed his eyes.  I could tell he was beginning to smile and that made me happy.  We were so young we couldn’t even hardly develop a proper hard-on, but it felt so good to use my body to comfort someone — I mean, someone not a dog.  It was so naturally loving and human.

I wonder if I should contact him now?  We kept it sort of private.  The other guys weren’t part of the deal — it was just me and Joey.

Then when we were older we went to different high schools.  That first year Joey’s dad was still beating him and gave him a really bad black eye.  A senior boy, Dirk, saw that black eye behind the dark glasses Joey wore to school and he went over to where Joey’s dad worked and beat the shit out of him.  After that Dirk and Joey were always together.  I wished I’d been that brave.  I went to see that Marlon Brando movie where he was on a motorcycle and that’s what Dirk was like.  Pretty soon Joey started being like that, too.  Anyway, I was beginning to notice girls.  But I never forgot Joey.  I guess I’ll probably never contact him either.


I was bouncing off an NPR story about a renegade LDS colony that the authorities have just invaded but now don’t know quite what to do with.  What struck me was that they said there were a LOT of these boys just hanging around Salt Lake City, wondering what to do.   They don’t have quite enough moxie to organize themselves into a construction company, evidently.  Or get overwhelmed anyway.  This is only a beginning.

Prairie Mary
Jem, short for Jeremy, was a well-loved boy.  After all, he had five mothers.  Only one father.   This was one of the non-conforming LDS families you read about.  Polygamous.  Most men thought that was pretty neat, having sexual access to that many women, but that meant five families to feed, five women to keep happy.  You’d think that would mean he was kind of an Alpha Dog, a big strong tough guy, but what outsiders didn’t understand was that the whole community was really run by the only Alpha Dog, the dictator, who had the power to reassign a man’s families if they weren’t happy.

If he wanted to reassign a family — maybe to punish the man or maybe the wife or even the kids, but always to punish — it wouldn’t matter if the family said they didn’t WANT reassignment, that they wanted to work things out, or even if there really was NO problem.  He could only do this because religiously they were all part of a fantasy about God being the Ultimate Patriach, the guy in the sky who ran everything through this single earthly representative.

Another part of it was the the complex of families were so tightly woven and so divided from the outside world — no education beyond elementary reading and arithmetic, no media, no contact with outsiders — that they had no way to know they were living in a box.  The men, except for the patriarch and his close friends and henchmen, became cowed and even worried that their wives would complain about them.  Some wives used that.

Jem knew which mother was his biological mother but he wasn’t as close to her as he was to one of the younger wives and a couple of the daughters who were near his age.  When he was little and the others were also little, they sometimes noticed that older boys were missing.  The little girls especially would be attached to the kinder boys, since their fathers were far to busy to talk to them or teach them things.  It was just part of the order of things.

Then one day a boy came back, quietly, secretly, and briefly.  One of his sisters talked to him.   He left her a little cheap transistor radio.  She and Jem began to rendezvous in the secret places they knew and to listen to that little radio until the batteries died.  They had no new batteries nor did they know where to get any.  But what they heard was for them the equivalent of taking a rocket into outer space.

They had assumed that they went off to be missionaries or to work at some other colony.  Boys were trained in construction, not just framing and roofing, but also plumbing and electrical.  They often went on a crew to build either for another group or even to fulfill a construction contract that the patriarch had made.  The bids he would make would be far lower than anyone else’s because the labor was so low-cost.  The young men were paid only enough to be fed and sheltered, though not in a public way.  Maybe by one of the related churches.  If any of these young men got notions about the outside world while on one of these excursions, he’d be smart to keep it to himself.

The boy who came back had hidden his great-grandfather’s handmade wood plane, a beautiful but old-fashioned instrument, to keep it from becoming community property and he came back to retrieve it.

Jem was a thoughtful boy.  One day he left, not knowing anything except to start walking in the direction the girl said the boy had come from and returned to.  It was north.  He made it to Salt Lake City.  There was the older boy.  There were more than a few of the older boys who had gone missing.

They couldn’t fit into the system.  They didn’t understand what to do.  They spoke English but didn’t mean the same things.

Salt Lake City authorities called them “the Lost Boys.”  They didn’t know what to do with them either.  The drug cartels knew.  The Lost Boys had never been taught what drugs can do to a person or how they would eat their hearts out.

And that’s how Jem became a hollow boy.


“Madly Anointed, Kissed, Bowed Down Before” — oh, yes.  I’ve seen it before my very eyes.  “Oooooh, Mr. Saddle, I just loooove your work!”   But she’s not looking at the work.  She’s looking at him.  Or more specifically, his zipper.  He is well-packed, but she doesn’t know how good a shooter yet.  She badly wants to find out.  Wants to get astride the saddle, so to speak.

He’s not even young: rather grizzled.  Okay, very grizzled  Not very tall.  Pretty strong, though.  Sculptors do develop shoulders.   But she’s thinking too much about Rodin, Picasso, Pollock — boasting cocksmen.  Some guys do get old and tired, even if they are famous and the toast of the country.

I’m his model, his beautiful young Native American brave who hunts the buffalo in only a breechclout.  Sometimes the customers come on to me, but not this one.  To her I am invisible.  Indians are used to being invisible.  She must have a father complex.  Of course, she’s no young chick herself.  She leeeeans on his shoulder, draaaaging her dangling boobs along his denim shirt.  So innocently.  He pretends he doesn’t notice.  That will set the hook better than responding would.  He’s not thinking about her body — he’s thinking about her checkbook.  But later.  It’s time to close and he’s NOT inviting her to dinner.  There ARE limits.

We eat out.  Neither one of us wants to cook or wash dishes.  He’s always after me to eat salads, but I stick to pizza and beer.  I’m always after him for his smoking, but he pays me no mind.  He likes to pretend he’s in an old noir film, blowing smoke.  Blowing smoke, all right.

When we get back, he goes to the shower.  “Bean?  Bean!  Come wash my back.”  I got my name by announcing when I was little that I was a “human being.”  My family teased me by pretending I was saying “human bean.”  People here don’t like little boys who put on airs.  They didn’t take me seriously.  Sometimes not even seriously enough to make sure I had enough to eat or a warm place to sleep.  I don’t always want to wash anyone’s back, but I do it.  I’m not stupid.

Anyway, he’s cute when he’s all wet.  He’s so hairy he’s like a teddy bear and I like to dry him off the way you’d dry a little boy — getting into all the crevices, like, well, between his toes.  When he’s dry and tousled and pink-cheeked, I can hardly resist him and kiss him on the mouth.  He responds.

The doorbell.  I hope it’s not that woman.  No, it’s Sad’s agent.  Yeah, I call him “Sad” and there IS something sad about him.  Like all white men.  Especially the ones who long for the 19th century.  “Why gone those times?” they sigh.  But — the doorbell.

The agent, Sid, has been on a kick for quite a while.  Someone explained Orientalism to him and he got it into his head that the American Indian is the new Oriental, the jeweled exotic with the clever tongue and substances of magic effect.  It’s a 19th century idea really, to be so in love with desert people on horseback.  But it does fit, doesn’t it?

In a Seven of Swords way — do you like Tarot?  Sad LOVES Tarot and I’ve learned to tell the cards for him.  (A woman I knew in college taught me.)  It’s not that he’s superstitious, he’s just so narcissistic that he wants everything to be about him.  The Seven of Swords is a two-edged card about secrecy and trickery.  It’s really my card and I make it come up in almost every reading.  I never really tell him which card is his.  Best for him to keep wondering and considering.
“Read this!” insists Sid, and pushes a computer download into my hands.  “Orientalism is the imitation or depiction of aspects of Eastern cultures in the West by writers, designers and artists. . . . Orientalism was more widely used in art history referring mostly to the works of French artists in the 19th century, whose subject matter, color and style used elements from their travel to the Mediterranean countries of North Africa and Western Asia.

“These meanings were given a new twist by 20th century scholar Edward Said in his controversial book Orientalism, in which he uses the term to describe a pervasive Western tradition, both academic and artistic, of hostile and deprecatory views of the East, shaped by the attitudes of European imperialism in the 18th and 19th centuries. When used in this sense, Orientalism implies essentializing and prejudiced outsider interpretations of Eastern cultures and peoples. Said was critical of this scholarly tradition.”

Sounds like Sioux to me.  But Sad has an idea for a new bronze and he and Sid go off to make little mockup miniatures on the kitchen table with toothpicks for spears.   I take my iPhone to bed to watch vids for a while.  I’m getting a little tired of all this mercantilism, all this narcissism, all this . . . what is it?  Orientalism.
In the morning when I wake up that woman is back.  I walk down the street for ice cream.  Hey, that’s a good breakfast!  Dairy, isn’t it?  I’m lactose tolerant.  I can handle it.  I love vanilla white.

But when I come out of the shop with my triple-dip cone, I almost run into a guy coming towards me, almost smoosh my ice cream on his silk shirt.  While I’m watching the ice cream and desperately juggling to keep it from going on the sidewalk, a hand comes out to steady mine.  A black hand.  A very BIG black hand.

He lifts my hand up to his beautiful ebony face and he swallows the whole top of my vanilla cone — takes it in his mouth and puuuuulls it slowly between his red velvet lips.

I lift my gaze to his smiling eyes.

It’s a few days before I get back to the issue of Orientalism.


They hadn’t been out of college long, were at their first jobs and settled in enough to see that it was going to be a while before they began to rise through the ranks. They’d had a lot of plans but now everything was sort of on hold and they’d stopped even talking about marriage. The woman was beginning to think about her old dream of being a writer. The man wanted her to take cooking classes. She said not until they had a dishwasher.

Meals were the minimum necessary. They had a tendency to coffee a lot, but not really eat out. On this Sunday afternoon they were just sort of dawdling when one of them came across a story identifying the worst writing about sex. That was enough to sort of kick conversation up a bit.
“Okay”, he said. “You want to be a writer. Let’s play a little game. I’ll name a sexy singer, and then you compose a little scene to go with whoever it is.” She laughed. It sounded like fun.
“Louis Armstrong,” he said.

The bar is smoky, which is a little mysterious since tobacco is forbidden these days. There’s almost no light, just what reflects from the glass shelves of bottles against the bar mirror. The two of them are getting a little older now; it has been a long time ago that they . . . well. They smile and sip old Scotch, knowing that’s as far as it will go. They have obligations now. Loyalties. Vows to keep. Good jobs.
But their knees seek each other under the little table and they smile. It’s almost Christmas. It was nearer the Fourth of July last time. They were sweaty, even smelly, and loved it because it was the beloved’s skin and smell. A little fishy. A little grassy.
They inhale.
“I love it,” he said. Then he suggested Nina Simone.

It was college and they thought they were so smart, but also they were scared. So they played at being hip and put on sophisticated records in the little apartment in the top of a garage. It was getting towards graduation and they would go different directions. The afternoon sun pounded on the roof of the space, now furnished with whiskey boxes of things to be taken back home. They’d had to open a box to get the records out.
Home. A foreign place now. It was a temptation to run away, maybe to Mexico.
But no. They hold each other. They cry. They play the record over and over. They fall asleep in each other’s arms.
By now he worries a little that these are both far in the future and merely remembering the past with some sweet regret. None are about now. He says, “Miles Davis.”

He was black — she was not. it was a beach town and he picked her up, so easy, sooooo easy. She just wanted it. He didn’t care one way or the other, but it was interesting.
Then she was so . . . different, that he began to heat up. But as he began to spread and grow, she began to shrink. Her pink cheeks became a red face and her fluffy curls began to soak and stick. Her eyes flew open and wide, looking at him.
Then he knew what to do. He sat up and took her onto his lap like a little child, to be rocked and kissed until she relaxed. Then he laid her down with her head on the pillow and slipped into her so easy, soooooo easy.

“You’re good at this,” he said.
“Does it worry you?”
“Of course not, but maybe it’s time we went home.” They walked casually, holding hands, not really hurrying.
When they got home, he tried to take her in his arms, so he could kiss her neck. But she bent away from him. “No, no, no! I’ve got to write that stuff down before I forget it. Might be good enough to sell.” She headed into the little alcove where her computer was set up, ready to go.
“What have I done?” he thought. “I’d better think this through.”


The aquarium tank for the big octopus was twenty feet on a side, very big for a little seaside establishment but not really big enough for a Giant Pacific Octopus. At least it might not offer enough growing room since they’ve been known to go to thirty feet. He was floating at the moment, spread out and almost touching all sides like a big pink silk parachute or parasol, except for the blob of a head with its two eyes and pumping gill slits. He had three hearts: one for each gill slit and one for his head. They weren’t working hard now, because he was just listening. Funny that humans had finally figured out that the whales were singing opera to each other, but still didn’t know about the wave lengths the octopuses used.
It used to be that sailors thought octopuses would come with their giant tentacles and rip up their ships, devour their crews, so that they were called Devilfish. But now one scientist said they ought to be called “primates of the sea” because of their brains. The fact that octos have blue blood, based on copper instead of iron (but then why does copper in their water kill them?) and that they have 500 million neurons, distributed throughout head and body, compared to the 100 billion neurons in human brains, just doesn’t compute to humans.

Dexterous as their tentacles are, suction cups made them alien; and they didn’t live long enough to evolve. At most they had a half-dozen years and some species only a year. They simply don’t have enough time to build experience and are too solitary to share a culture from one generation to another.
It was a small seaside town, but had an excellent small aquarium run by a old retired biologist. She saved her allowance to buy tickets and lingered at each tank of small fish, typical hobby fish except that they were salt water species since the establishment was on the board walk, close enough to pump in water from the sea. The tanks were actually in a back room with the pumps and supplies, but the front glass wall of each was a window. In the middle of the darkened space was an open pool full of sea anemones and for a while the octopus was living there, until it learned how to climb out, how to open the door to the back warehouse, climb the stairs and plunder the tanks.

Now he lived in a tall custom tank, bigger than a clothes closet and under a metal mesh lid. Rather fine mesh since an octopus can slip through anything the size of cyclone fence, but he was very strong and they had to check the edges of the lid often to make sure he wasn’t prying it up.

She had loved him from the first moment she had seen him in that pool of fabulous anemones in all the colors and beckoning-finger allure of chorus girls. They didn’t sting him — nor did he ink them as he drifted among them. But she couldn’t get very close until he was in the tall custom tank.

But then the girl showed up, in that apparitional way humans had, appearing white-faced out of the gloom, and somehow he was able to make mind contact with her. She knew things and she knew he could access them. She even offered her mind to him. And she could hear his. He folded up and roman candled down to the bottom of the tank to confront her.

The first time she walked up to the glass, he was so startled that he changed color, turning mustard covered with red polka dots. She couldn’t help but laugh, which made him slip to the bank of the tank where a little cave had been arranged for him. It looked too small, but he handily shrank down until he fitted. After that, she came to the tank slowly and spoke to him, which he seemed to hear through the glass.

This girl, about twelve or thirteen, was a great reader. At home she got out the encyclopedia (this was before computers) to begin studying cephalopods, so she would understand her friend. She learned that his first amazing color change had been meant to scare her, so he must have been a little disgusted that she laughed. It’s called “deimatic behavior”, she informed him, though he didn’t care at all. That was the first time she felt him in her mind . . . and her belly.

When she’d been coming for quite a while — in fact, so often that the owner biologist stopped charging her admission — the octopus would come down to the glass to meet her. He still changed color, but not so dramatically, — rather like someone with fair skin blushing and blanching. Once she thought he had escaped but he was only practicing his camouflage. His eyes were big; they gazed across at each other. She often felt that they were attuned enough to hear thoughts, though his were rather — well, floaty. Their very difference seemed to be part of their relationship, with the main aspect that they were so interested in each other. Then there was more.

She longed to touch him, to stroke him. She was sure that those suction cups on his tentacles would feel on her skin like kisses, little smooches. But she was aware that the tentacles themselves were quite brawny and could squeeze her as though they were pythons. Plus she had read about the beak and the poison.

He finally took her hydrosailing with him — in their minds — through the Pacific and into the tropics where the fish were bright as candies. He warned her about the blue-ring octopus, so pretty but carrying bacteria that secreted a poison so intense that it would paralyze her, prevent her from breathing. He himself could breathe air for short periods of time. But this was a mind trip, so both were safe, of one mind, a shared virtuality.
It took almost a year of him searching her mind and character before he got to his goal. He wanted back into the sea. He’d been born in the jumbled and sharp-edged debris under the long pier out from town, where the dark timbers under the walkway were coated with algae and festooned with kelp. That’s where he wanted to go, not to the wide open miles of water beyond. Home is what we know.

At the beginning of every day he used the tips of his tentacles to feel around every edge and corner of his enclosure, looking for a way to get out. He’d heard all the stories about octos slipping out when drain covers were loose or a pump hose was a little wider than it should be. They were his hope.

But now he saw that humans had imprisoned him here and so he should look for the crevices in humans. This girl had just such a point of entry. She called it love. He told her about the early days when he was the size of her hand and she seemed to understand. It made her maternal and protective.

People liked the old biologist and brought him things to explain, so he was not surprised that the girl brought him crabs to feed the octo. In fact, he showed her how to unpadlock the lid above and behind the tank, so she could toss them in. After a few months he began to let her sell tickets out front while he went home to grab a nap, and then he made her a key of her own. The octo was careful not to let her know how interested he was in all this, because he began to realize that she would interpret freeing him as losing him. Human beings, with all their warm-blooded hugginess didn’t like to be separated. But if she didn’t love him enough, she might not set him free.

He searched through her mind for clues to human attachment and pair-bonds. He asked her things and found intimate places, little crevices for the small ends of tentacles where even human fingers couldn’t go. Indeed, his suction-cupped arms learned to kiss except for one that balked. He threatened to tear it off and leave it behind.

As for the girl, she was not a fool. She knew he was alone because octos are cannibals and it was not unusual for males to be eaten by females they had just fertilized because the females would linger to defend the eggs, starving, and they could use the protein. But this octo didn’t give her eggs; he gave her powerful dreams that stained her nightgown in ways new to her.
Freeing an octopus was neither kind nor idealistic. Taking it back to its birthplace, even though the pier wasn’t far away, would be a logistic nightmare because he weighed a LOT. But she thought, “I guess maybe I could use a shopping cart,” and the octopus knew he had her. They both understood that he was about out of time. He was nearly at the limit of his growth and would have maybe only months or weeks to be under the pier.

They just did it. It might have been a more dramatic story if they had used a bit of poison from a blue-ringed octopus to put the old man to sleep forever, but that was too complicated. She was no killer. She just came one night with her key, unpadlocked the feeding hatch, lugged the octo out to the cart, and pushed him down the walkway to the long pier.

The only glitch was that about a fourth of the way down, a wheel came off the cart. The tide was way out, which at Seaside means a mile of sand. She carried the octo as far as she could, then sprawled, dumping him out of her arms. He set off to get there on his own, which was difficult on sand, a crawling glob of Jello thrashing his arms side-to-side with nothing solid to grab. She hated to see him that way. It was the cruelest part of the adventure and it haunted her later. He was far from the tall bright swimmer she was used to in his tank.

Finally he came to an outcrop of rock and then a backwash of tidewater that took him under the pier so he could grab the pilings under it. There was no goodbye. But there was love and remembrance. She never saw the octo again and was grateful, because he would not have been alive.



When she had been in high school, she had read Isadora Duncan’s autobiography called “My Life,” and never forgot a few sentences where Isadora said of her first lover, “You have never known true happiness until you have slept with someone you love.” She was so naive that she thought Isadora meant really “sleep” but she agreed with her own version.

Euphemisms are always a little tricky because they are the culture’s metaphors and not one’s own. “Sleep” suggests unconscious, flat, no climax, not even a lot of passion. Just innocent in a dark way. Dark. Can’t see. Psyche dripping wax on Cupid. Dream not real.

But in fact her first lover really was wonderful to innocently sleep with. He had a high body temperature and relaxed totally. He didn’t move around a lot but if she did, it didn’t wake him. She loved his body, the first other person’s body she’d had real access to explore since she was an infant. Fingertips up ribs, down spine —bumps in a row. She loved to cup one butt cheek in her palm. Mostly she didn’t look at him until summer mornings when he pushed the sheets off. They didn’t wear nightclothes, not even baggy old t-shirts. It was skin-against-skin. When she slid as close as she could get, he didn’t pull away or make room, he just stayed solidly anchored, bubbling and pulsing with life.

He was a good lover but not splendid or inspired. The truth was that she was a little too heavy and inflexible to be as responsive as she felt she ought to be. She read and learned and explored herself with a vibrator but felt protective about it and didn’t tell him. She didn’t climax but pretended well.

She slid her palms down from his armpits along his silky sides to the Adonis belt she studied in summer, thinking about the tops of his thighs and how they fitted into his body. That fuzzy tousle she named “Short” and “Curly.” She cherished the little bird in its nest and gently embraced and pressed his balls, teased his . . . oh, there were so many euphemisms and she couldn’t remember what Isadora used at a time when no one ever said penis out loud, not even a doctor.

So all was well for years and then he got restless. His body didn’t change; he played sports and was reasonable about eating. Neither of them watched television in the bedroom, partly because it mostly meant they would go sleep while it was nattering and wake to the unpleasant feeling that the world had gone on without them. Then one day he bought an e-tablet and began to read in bed, not even needing to switch on a light or rustle pages by turning them.
At first she didn’t mind, turned her back against him and enjoyed feeling that. He was reading politics, then he spoke about running for office, and pretty soon he had joined the staff of the local state senator. He was driving a lot and sometimes was too far away to make it home for the night. When he did, he kicked and jerked with dreaming. But he was very pleased with the work and she was satisfied with hers, which was academic clerical. She didn’t want to teach, but she enjoyed editing.

There was no real conflict or unhappiness, but when he felt ready to move to the federal level, meaning actually moving to Washington, D.C., the silky bulk of the physical relationship had thinned and stiffened. It was easy to just let it go. She reflected that as much as she loved him, they had not reached any big ecstatic heights, neither emotionally nor erotically. It was a steady happiness and she knew that was rare and valuable, that some women were beaten and abused, so she was grateful.

When he went, he left his reading tablet behind because by now he was constantly in communication with unseen people on a smartphone — no time for reading. She looked at his books, wasn’t interested, learned how to delete them and loaded books she really wanted, most of them natural history with a strong poetic flavor.

When she had burned through Mary Oliver, Annie Dillard, and all the other carefully shifting kaleidoscope of female attention to the planet, it seemed necessary to be more of an activist, but she was not inclined to leave home and sleep on a cot under a mosquito net in some remote place. Nevertheless, she began to investigate the many groups all over the planet struggling to know and protect little creatures, even the nasty ones. She signed up for websites and newsletters. That’s how she met him.

She had no idea what he looked like and didn’t care, wasn’t even aware of his age or credentials. It was his “voice” in print that strangely rang in her ears. The precision and color of what he said was more eloquent than poetry, though he was only explaining how things worked. His specialty was the tide pool. He was working from the Oregon Coast, along the edge of the ocean in the tide pools.

Not the tanned young man with bleached hair we associate with the California surfing crew, but rather a bearded older guy like a Steinbeck character. Someone who looked at the world slantwise, peering into relationships, tides and cycles. Moon jellyfish — she had not known there was a such thing and, when looking at them on vids, was smitten with them. The real moon, the planetary satellite, that had more to do with us that we thought, its subliminal pull sliding under the windowshades and into female flesh with a tide of blood. The embeddedness of the ordinary in the cosmic.

He explained sea urchins which were his specialty. “Urchin” meant “hedgehog” and so, she thought, a feral child in the streets instead of a kelp forest, might be — in his spiny resourcefulness — a kind of tidal creature scraping a living from offal as though it were algae, a street urchin in the surge of the city.

They were not bilateral, those sea urchins, but globular, and related to sea cucumbers with a five fold pattern like flowers. Indeed, they looked like spherical flowers and she spent hours looking for photos of their splendid tiny explosions, which he said were so thick in little depressions on the black volcanic rock that one couldn’t help but step on them. Red urchins, pencil-spined urchins — the slide shows she found and liked the best were the ones that included diagrams and scientific explanations. “Sea urchins’ tube feet arise from the five ambulacral grooves. Tube feet are moved by a water vascular system, which works through hydraulic pressure, allowing the sea urchin to pump water into and out of the tube feet, enabling it to move.”

“Sea creatures have no muscles,” he explained. “They operate through the dynamics of their own body fluids within the context of the sea water. This is totally unlike the muscle-worshipping humans who work by leveraging against bones, always working in paired opposition.”
She moved in her chair, the bilateral smooth curving of gluteus maximus trying to make a bit more room for her internal swelling sea creature. Her mouth puckered as though to whistle and that was also a swelling. She felt her heart, that muscle, swell and squeeze and then her whole body. This must be an orgasm, she thought. It was her first, mind and flesh together, and she went to the moon.


It was clear from his gingerbread beard and far-seeing eyes that he had descended way back there from Vikings who went to sea and dominated the northern European islands. His more immediate ancestors had not been afraid to cross the great oceans, but then they didn’t want to be sea captains because it was good to come home at the end of the day.

So some settled on the Great Lakes of America to run a fishing boat and there it soon became clear that it wasn’t the family home that the shore man needed, but rather the tavern, the convivial company of roaring men where he could tell stories and sing out the hero songs about surviving impossible storms. The family home is where he went to eat and sleep when he was drunk and worn out — the family itself merely a necessary nuisance, always wanting more.

Sometimes he didn’t care so much about the tavern and came home before the children went to bed. He liked to wrestle with them, the puppies, and tumble about with them on the floor. So he got a little carried away with it sometimes and the kids refused to settle and sleep, but so what? His wife objected but what did she have to do with it? He made the babies. She was only a container. He was the maker, the owner, the ruler and his son would be him in the future to make him proud.

Women were a terrible nuisance, always trying to keep him away from danger because they needed the income, not because they really cared about him. Women were a hole where a man pounded in his money to make the investment that created the future. All that nagging didn’t make him safer. What could she possibly know about life on the water?

At least he was free from nagging out there, trying to develop strategy for catching the wily salmon. He was really good at it. People called him Captain and meant it as a title of respect. Sometimes home didn’t feel like home at all, but someplace where he was an alien and not a welcome one at that. Maybe he was so full of rage that even the tavern wouldn’t have him. Then he left. He just left. When his son got old enough to leave his mother — though his mother didn’t think so — he threw the boy into the car and took him along. What boy wouldn’t want to light out for the territories with his dad.

The shore man wasn’t into hunting so much. Too much warm and fuzzy.. Too much blood. But he was a good enough fisherman for the companies to ask him to evaluate their gear and he was literate enough to draw up an article about fishing strategy. He taught all this to his boy. And the boy came in handy when he began to drink out in the woods, on an alpine lake, or even on the ice when throwing a line down a hole. Talk about cold-blooded!

It was a great life and it lasted for a decade, which people didn’t quite think was possible. But then life began to slide and contract at the same time. The salmon catches diminished. The wilderness contracted. The boy was always gone somewhere and he could never figure out where, just slid away into some secret hole or other. Only the woman stayed, though he wouldn’t have minded much if she’d taken the girl and left. He’d get by. Eat out of cans, he didn’t mind.

In those days people thought families should eat supper together. His wife always made a fuss about it, telling him what time they would eat, and if he forgot all about that stuff — he didn’t go by clocks, he went by the sun! — keeping his food warm and sitting with him while he ate though he’d rather have peace and quiet. Once in the middle of a meal they all complained, ganged up on him, and demanded so much that he couldn’t stand it and threw the whole damned table against the wall, roast and all. Then they screamed and cried and blamed until he went down to the tavern. He knew his family wouldn’t shut him out for long because they needed him too much.

But then he began to see his boy with other men, big important politicians. What could they possibly want him around for? Running errands? He had told the boy he should get a job, but what kind of job paid enough for him to have leather jackets? He bought the boy a motorcycle. He knew nothing could top that. But something did. The boy never slept at home.

The thing about a shoreman was he knew his boat and how to handle it in every weather, out there on the water was freedom and self-reliance, but he still needed to come back to the dock to sell the fish and take on fuel, because sails didn’t always have wind or the right kind of wind. He didn’t like to use the engine — no skill to it. He respected the wind and felt his sails were wings, soaring.

The end was inevitable. There was a storm that it was stupid to go out in, but he did it because his wife nagged him not to. The engine broke somehow — lack of maintenance. The sails were fine but the wind was too much for them and in the end the boat capsized. He was a strong swimmer but too far from shore. The sinking boat created a vortex, a whirling hole in the water.

Anyway, as he went overboard somehow he got tangled in the sails, wrapped up under the water so he couldn’t use his arms. He wished he carried a knife. He wished for his son. He wondered whether his wife would miss him. That was a first. When he washed up on the shore, he was still cocooned in the sail, shrouded.

His son wore his motorcycle jacket to the funeral. His wife was genuinely heartbroken, because she had really loved him, but she found it easy to get a job now that people didn’t have to worry about him storming in to claim her back. The daughter? No one remembers.

No one suggested a Viking funeral, the Captain’s corpse aflame on his boat. What a primitive idea!