Ode to Aimee

When I was a child it became clear to me that my father was different from other fathers.  He was gruff, and unkempt, and told strange stories about the sea. He wasn’t that old, but his hair was white, and his wrinkles left deep impressions in his skin, like footprints in wet sand.  His eyes were two boats, casting towards the
horizon.  Twenty years have passed, and now it has become clear to me that I am losing him.  My father is turning into the ocean, slowly, in the same way that we all eventually turn to dust.  He scratches at his beard that flaps with minnows, and when he stands in the light I can see purple and red tadpoles swimming through his veins. They pulse slowly like drops of blood filtering towards his center.  When I realized my father was becoming an ocean, I wasn’t upset at first.  I wanted to get toknow this new ocean father, to understand, and smell, and swim in him, but I didn’t realize my father wasn’t coming back.  

He told me he never meant to lose himself at sea.  He just loved the chase and the storm.  “We’re long-lining through the cold front,” he would say, holding his red thumb to the wind like a flagpole to the moon.  “Its about alkalinity,” he said, brushing algae from his anchor, “and I’m angling for stragglers.”  This had something to do with his method: isolating the weak from the pack.
 
I did the math.  A few weeks ago he complained his heart felt like a fish on the line.  Last Saturday he said his tongue was slimy and thick, like an eel.  At this rate, I figure we have about a month left.  I took him shopping, tried to dress him up more like a man and less like an Arctic salmon.  The clothes kept snagging on hooks, and doorknobs.  “I’m cooked bait,” he said, and there were Marlins diving and breaching in the fog between us.  Yesterday, I found him flopping in his favorite chair, restlessly, resembling a carp out of water.  I looked into his round, reflective eyes, and I fed him bits of algae, and plankton.  But, he’s shrinking.  Any one can see.  This morning he was a minnow.  I didn’t want to come home one day to find him minuscule, molecular, whale food floating in a coffee cup above the mantle piece.  I had to set him free. 

So I drove to the coast, with my father the minnow frolicking in a fish bowl, sloshing from side to side,strapped into the passenger seat.  From his erratic swimming, I could tell he was nervous about the imminent storm, and my driving on slick roads.  “It’s okay, Dad,” I said, patting the fish bowl as though it were his hand.

He kept worrying about what to cook for dinner, and whether I would ever marry that boyfriend.  I held my finger to my lips to shush his worried flapping, and he stopped pacing about the bucket, and I realized we both knew we were headed somewhere strange.  
 
I poured him lovingly into the larger fish bowl of the ocean, and I watched the colors of water blend and stir.I stood there hoping he would swim away into the depths, until the sky began to darken, and I could no longer tell the ocean from the air.  Still, when I am near the ocean, I hear my father whispering.  “Sweets,” he croons, “The whole world is a fish bowl.”  I pace the edges of the ocean, forlorn,feeling the walls of the sky.  I keep my door unlocked.  I keep my lights on.  I know he isn’t coming back, but if he did, I want him to find his way, like a sailor to a lighthouse.  

When the fog sits on the house in the morning, I cry out for him and hope he’ll hear. But the sound is stunted to the lost vessel of his body, and all I hear are sea chanteys echoing in my memory.

***

Originally from Los Altos, California, Rachel Slotnick is a painter and writer. She received her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in May 2010. Her work is on permanent display at the Joan Flasch Artist Book Collection at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She is a muralist for the 35th, 46th and 47th wards, and her paintings were displayed in a solo exhibition last August at Beauty & Brawn Gallery & Think Space. Recently published in Elimae Literary Journal, and High Chair Poetry, Rachel was also a finalist in the Gwendolyn Brooks Open Mic Awards. Rachel currently resides in Chicago where she works as Adjunct Faculty in art Studio and English at Malcolm X College and the Illinois Art Institute.

See the full scope of her work at: www.rachelslotnick.com  

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