Diver Walks into the Sea and Stays
Zone I: Intertidal
Before I go, I must learn to clear my ears.
Remove water from my mask while under,
control my breath until my spongy lungs
become a kind of swim bladder. Even then–
I am unwieldy. Unnatural. I am clunky machinery
strapped to a barrel of air and plastic
finned feet. I am a lemming stepping
into nothing. I walk the plank freely.
But once under, I can breathe. Here,
everything is suspended, slowed,
a kind of human miracle. Even wisps
of cuttlefish ink hang still in the water.
Imagine being surrounded by so much
unknown. Everything is suddenly worthy
of devotion. Everything has something
to teach me. I suddenly see how quietly
the world goes about its business
without me. The purple stars, the soft glow
of a shark embryo resting
on the kelp forest floor. I realize I want
something impossible: to hear a secret
no human has ever been told.
Zone II: Pelagic
Let me introduce you: here is
the slow music of a moving eel.
Strange teeth. Ink suspended
in the sea. Everywhere, green–
more green than you can imagine.
But you are already imagining.
Amazing, isn’t it, the human
mind’s speed? It races
under the demands of gravity.
Here, we float. We still breathe.
The whale’s lungs grow larger
than any brain can know, with ease.
Zone III: Benthic
I lack jaws. I lure
My clear face
is one big eye.
In heavy cold,
my shape is
wise. I need
nothing. I survive.
If you ever met a girl with eyes the color of a swordfish, you’d leave whoever you were with and go with her.
-James Prosek, “Swordfish Research: Woods Harbour, Nova Scotia”
According to the fishermen
mounting the harpoon stand,
hauling chunks of gray flesh
into trucks of ice which I learn
are swordfish with the head
and tail lopped off, there is a blue
that only lives in the sea. The long
glassy fish with the needle-nose
is too dangerous to drag living
onto land so instead the harpoon
buries deep, stays in the fish
until it tires on a buoy, stunned,
its body gone copper. They tell me
sometimes, if you are lucky, a fish
will flicker back to its living color,
even as it is dying, the indigo shimmer
so deep you might lose your footing
to its gravity, and I wonder if this miracle
if worth all the death they must witness,
the miles at sea, the boat deck piled
high with disembodied meat, the blade
entering and entering the silver bodies
so they might glimpse the living color
once, watch the catch become a hunter
again, however briefly, the way sometimes
a blade can turn radiant in its sheath.
This poem ends with a line from Hafiz’s poem “Radiant in its Sheath.”
About Stephanie Niu
Stephanie Niu (she/her/hers) is a poet from Marietta, Georgia who earned her degrees in symbolic systems and computer science from Stanford University. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in ENTROPY, The Southeast Review, Poets Reading the News, and Storm Cellar. She works as a product manager in New York City. You can read more of her work at https://stephanieniu.com/poetry.html.