[ToC]

 

NAMING THE SEA

Christen Noel

 

 

There's a spider outside my window. Every night, the same way, she casts her web from corner to sill. Silk strands in a spiral of parallel lines, all mining a way to the center. I envy the way she balances each translucent step. The way she transitions her weight, legs landing pin-like, and ejects again into mechanical ballet. Her shameless intricacy. The way she reveals some blueprint hiccupping in her DNA, even as she withholds her name. I watch her the way I'd watch a god create sand. The pounding of shells against rock and my breath hung on the loss.

*

My daughter came into the world through sound. The low hum in the mantle of my lungs. Her voice the color of fire. I hear her call my name from a swaddled cocoon. In the dark, her breath on the lobe of my ear.

No one says the word for her hymn.

Instead, there is midnight and hunger. There are nurses in rotation, an unspoken resolve to convince me there is god in a cleft. How many times can I say I love the rain?

*

The spider's web is broken in the acquisition of food. The thing she wants the most will break, will tear her into half cut moons.

The moth is caught by its wing. It flaps in defiance, the rhythm a current or monsoon. An earthquake where there is no earth. I watch her follow the sound, cling to the viscid ropes. I want to ask if she knows what it means. If she sees the beauty in the moth, too.

She rolls the moth until its wings are silent; its body is a silk seed. Again: the wake of fear is a sequence of holes. I could put my hand through their expanse and touch the shingles of my grandmother's roof. I know how it feels to close the gap. How this empathy is a catacomb of petrified wood.

*

My daughter was formed in the eye of a whale. The first night she shows me where sea urchins sleep, the impossible belly of coral. I press my finger in the break of her lip and touch her pink gums.

There's no reason for elegy, but I give myself to jellyfish while a nurse charts her heart. She counts the disks of her spine and the placement of toes. She measures the bridge of my daughter's nose and the smooth of her neck. We collapse into endless folds of umbilical cord, clamped as if a bag of fresh bread.

I wait for someone here to name the sea.

*

The spider outside my window is a god.

When her fangs sink into the belly of a cuckoo bee, I know how to feel.

*

The Luna moth begins as a caterpillar and I want to hold her in my chest. If she could see the roundness of her neck, I wonder if she would choose the metamorphosis. I wonder if she would choose, instead, the way her skin glides against bark.

She sees me from the tulip tree, all green mounds and cut teeth. How do I tell her she's enough?

Ten days from now she will wrap herself in the widest leaf, her spines expanding into paper-thick sheets. I will miss the curve of her back. The way her mouth is raised from domes and the slope of her head when she smiles.

*

My daughter was born in the center of a lake. The second night she swims to the surface through caverns made of granite, magma crystalized deep underground. Each stone is a measurement of time.

The doctors place their fingers in the roof of her mouth, each searching for canyons that are nine months deep. I listen when they tell me how the earth was formed—how the platelets collide and sometimes pull apart. They tell me there are holes in Michigan's chin carved by a collision of stars. Fishermen saw the flames pour from the sky. They searched all night for the rock, placed them one by one in the bow of the boat and carried them all to shore.

*

She holds up the sky with the tip of her nose.

She holds me up in the repetition of wait. In the hospital bed that swallows me piece by bloody piece.

*

I've watched the spider for weeks now. We are companions in the dark. The reconstruction is endless and each morning the pattern has changed. She never clings to the same shingles twice, never matches her connective points. Sometimes the map shifts to the left, catching more sun below the roof. Sometimes the web is a palm, compact and poised.

*

The third night, my daughter is an Appalachian peak. Doctors are stunned by the boldness in her throat and the way she holds her head. They say she was forged in volcanic ash, the smolder in a giant's mouth. How else could she be so strong?

She tells me her name the way she holds my thumb. She tells me how the earth is an unruly child struggling to draw a perfect heart. One day we won't need the sand, our coasts held tight with millions of uncrushed shells.

*

One night, weeks after my daughter is born, the spider tries to spin her web in the middle of a storm. She fights against the gale, bracing her long legs before flinging her body from the bricks, only to land in a whirlpool of leaves. The result: a wild tangle of silk.

I hold my daughter as she nurses, her cleft separated on my breast. She doesn't pull enough from my body to sustain her own, the fact unimportant when we're skin to skin. The ridge of her nose leads to Sycamore Park. One hundred trees shedding bark, their white limbs bare and touching sky.

*

My daughter is not a Luna moth. She is the perfect tangle of seaweed and crescent moons, born from the soft palate. She is hunger and long arms, her iris a warm pool where I find my dimpled chin.

One day she will be tied together. One day new doctors will touch the roof of her mouth, the gap in her lip an entrance to stars. She was formed with the sand. She was formed from the roots of a tulip tree, her body a series of perfectly placed rings.

I will always miss seeing the stars.

*

I don't want to see the Luna Moth. I want her to stay as she was before, such delicious green.

She reminds me that change is a wild bird. How the spider waits in the crook of the sill. How we force the moth into wings. How god was born in cleft. How the moon is thirty earths away and still we plant a flag and call her ours.

 

 

 

__

When my daughter was born, her cleft lip was a surprise. I couldn't process how it felt: the fear, the worry, the joy, the determination. It wasn't until months later, after her lip had been stitched back together and the space that once separated her cupid's bow - the space I had come to love - was gone, that I felt prepared to process our journey on the page. I would stay up late feeding her and at the same time watch a spider rebuild her web night after night. There was a connection there, and it took me a while to figure out why I was so drawn to the ritual. The memories weren't linear, and I knew that had to be reflected in the essay. More than anything, I wanted to write toward the moment of beauty that was and is my daughter.