My Daughter's Ocean
by Maya Rose
I thought she was sleeping.
Her soft chubby hand slack in mine
and her dream-breaths sounding
through the darkening room
like waves on a shore.
The orange light fell through
the dust motes and across a young face,
already stained as her mother’s
by the sun of a wild childhood
spent in the brittle summer grasses
With slow practiced motion,
I slide from the sheets
and turn for the door.
Then turn back slowly
as she rolls towards me.
Green eyes wide and dreamless
awake and curious as the day she
left the ocean of my body.
“Tell me again” she demands
“how the crabs walked.”
I settle into memory, curling my body
around my toddler ecologist,
whose first word was “pine,” whose
fingernails are stained with crescents
of red Sierra soil.
“When I first tried to hold one it scurried
sideways up the arm of my wetsuit”
I explain, running my fingers up her arm and to the
soft blond hairs at the back of her neck.
She giggles, “why couldn’t you catch it Mama?”
In the silence after her question, I roll backwards
off the dive boat, and into the Pacific.
I equalize and descend into memory,
breaths steady to conserve
my limited oxygen, a prayer to stay in
the cold ocean of my youth as long as
the present permits.
I am six meters down now,
trying to move fast enough,
trying to catch this crab, to hold it for
my daughter, but I am inexperienced,
and my dexterity is impaired.
When I surface again, I tell her
about the chitons, the sea stars
and the nudibranchs that still cling
to the substrate of memory.
I tell her about the anemones the size
of sunflowers, who shrank from my touch
like a young boy brushed by the one he loves.
Her eyelids begin to droop.
She whispers with sleep on her lips
“I wish I saw them.”
I softly agree, as she drifts away.
I breathe out the dying sun of this
impossibly warm November day,
drowning in responsibility.
“Mama did everything she could”
I justify, “but everything
I could was not enough.”
I was inexperienced, my
dexterity impaired, so I watched
the ocean I love silently dissolve and fade.
Though I vowed to protect this place
as I stared at the velvet burgundy
anemone the size of a dinner plate,
somehow I am trapped in a terrifying present.
Somehow I sit beside my sleeping daughter,
knowing that I allowed her ocean to be stolen.
Tonight her goodnight kiss
is a prayer for forgiveness.
Saline as sorrow,
or amniotic fluid,
or the sea.