- Codex, and: Relic, and: Hush Harbor, and: Water Worth Crossing, and: Sieve
What lives will rot into a palimpsest of place: lost echo of undertext, a kind haunting. What is land if not a page we keep trying to write our names on? Fingerprints left in the sundried bricks by the forgotten men who built the South & still insist, I was here. A woman in the deep of a Spanish cave reaches out from where she stood: one hand on rock, the other tightening a reed to her lips. Red ocher: red clay: the blackwater river I bedded down next to last November. At sunrise, the Edisto was a mirror made tannin from fallen leaves: leaving, I dipped my oars into fire. Though that tribe’s word for red was swallowed long ago. Stone tossed in water: only a ripple to mark how a whole body could change with one taking. [End Page 81]
Charleston’s a charnel for all the binyas and comyas. Those from here and those—like me—from off.
This little city: America’s cracked mirror reflecting light through grit. Sand polished to a shine acceptable
for looking. The way a bone will bleach when stripped of enough flesh. This is a land harbored by the idea
of whiteness. A freckled arm, a drawn sail, a split shell. I long to be a bivalve: a filter for what poisons this place.
Sessile, yet always siphoning—a scallop, maybe. Just some white, soft thing that snaps shut in fear. Opens only
in the marriage between shadow and sun. My eyes, then, a hundred blue mirrors designed to catch everything.
To see clearly just once, and leave the most beautiful parts behind. In a clear bowl by the mantel, in a wall
behind the oyster shack, ground to memory in a shell mound four thousand years ago. Those natives
gone now. Nothing but sea dust to remember them, trace of fire and salt. I walk the shoreline at Sewee, [End Page 82]
wonder about their dead. An ossuary burial where the flesh is left alone to rot in peace. Then gathered later
with the rest—femurs, fibulas, skulls. A skeletal stack in a communal grave. To be bound together for eternity as
particle—part of a whole. As I live here, so I might die here. Tending to chaos as order, sorting signs
like a woman who’s lost her tribe. No, like a woman with nothing but horizon, cloud of dust at her feet. [End Page 83]
Lowcountry estuaries once rich in Carolina Gold, indigo, and
cotton harbor traces of the Atlantic salt that covered this land
twenty million years ago. The marsh still longs to return to the bottom of the sea
so much it carries its stink like a lover’s cologne. The ocean’s tide
a call and response, a seduction. A fish pheromone that promises the secret
deep. Soil made fertile through drowning, its own patient insistence
on rising. Dreams of sweetgrass, katydid, spartina. Somewhere
far, glaciers rose above the water’s lip like some teething monster—the world
swallowing itself in one slow gulp. A land turned inside out in an offering
to all that settled the ocean’s floor. Shark fin, coral, obsidian, kelp.
The salt crystals clung—sifted and scattered—over the wound.
The sower’s prayer inside a hush harbor: all that bleeds will take root. [End Page 84]
Water Worth Crossing
To rest their limbs, their burdens upon this ground, first they left their own land. White men are cursed with dreams of elsewhere. Elsewhere—cursed with white men. From the flat open of England to the red land with teeth. The Arawaks knew what coral could wreak on canoes: the bite of wanting just a little more. Barbados a sweet jewel of sun, barrels of rum, sugar cane stalks leveled at the root. All land meant to be cleared and cropped. To plant, from the Latin planta—a sprout, a shoot, a cutting. A business of plantations: making one thing into another. Shit into manure, cane pressed to juice. A man with land names himself Master and learns the code...