Rasma Haidri was raised in the cultural limbo of East Tennessee with a father from India and Wisconsin born Norwegian-American mother. Issues of home, identity, and culture inform her writing as a result. Among her recognitions are the Southern Women Writers Association emerging writer award in creative non-fiction and the Wisconsin Academy of Arts, Letters & Science poetry award. Her poems and essays have been widely anthologized in the US and have appeared in various publications in other countries. She has coauthored two college English textbooks and is a regular newspaper columnist in the Arctic seacoast region of Norway where she lives.
Tell me about Ocean, says the Ocean
The girl says, I know the body can dissolve in ocean
and rise again in another form, unrecognizable,
and never have left the ocean.
There is the smell of salt, and there is salt.
They are equal. One did not cause the other.
One did not come first. Nothing came first.
And everything grew out of the one before it.
Do I speak in riddle? Smile with me a bit.
There is breathing at birth and at death, and to the one being born,
it appears the world will end.
Where will you go at the end of the world?
Have you plans?
Have you booked passage and packed your valise?
Is that a ticket in your hand?
Do you believe there is a steamer to take you across?
Dive in. Take that paper and wipe your daughter’s face.
She is body, has fleshly needs, but stop telling her about time.
Later. In a minute. Tomorrow. “It IS tomorrow,” she says.
And it is.
Is this a riddle? You are no more real than this.
Have you ever seen the profile of a woman’s face shift
as you watched her watching an opera?
Did you see her ear become her mouth,
her nose her eyes, the way Picasso drew her?
If you were the only one who saw her new face,
was it any less real?
Your eyes are small pools of ocean,
as the violinist is one instrument in the orchestra,
and the white crusty mouth of the sea urchin is one part of the creature,
and all these colorful bodies,
so lively & upright, drinks in hand, chatting & smiling,
each is a small digit, an extension of the being.
Yet they think they are the whole.
They have forgotten what they connect to.
They are born forgetting the whole of which they are part.
Does that line of horizon think it is the end of the ocean?
Does that cloud over the sun think it has eclipsed the sky?
Why does the mouth of the sea urchin exist?
To feed the whole body.
The violinist strokes and pulls his bow,
intense in concentration, but he might play badly.
He might be many measures off, his thick fingers missing the stops.
He might play on, not knowing this.
Or he might know, and play on more fiercely to correct the fault,
and more fiercely still when his awareness heightens,
his ear more attuned than ever to the faltering tones.
Fierce and intense practice will not perfect the playing
nor will focusing more on his effort
nor will believing in the importance of what he is playing
as if he is blazing a trail
as if he is creator of the sound his relentless stroking produces
as if there is a way to mark his existence.
Why are these people smiling and laughing
and he rubbing his elbow on her soft brown arm?
To play out the movement of the universe — to love each other
with remembrance of their souls,
because each of these souls vibrates against another,
and that one another, and on and on,
and this makes up the music of love.
There is no other God.
The errant violinist has only to hear the orchestra playing behind him,
to merge with that tune, and every movement of his wrist and fingers
will be precise, he will remember the perfect music,
and it will be the easiest thing he has ever done.
This is the work of the master: to open the blinds of our forgetting.
We glimpse the play of beauty, and remember who we are,
our part in the whole, and there is no other purpose for any of us,
but to join in the orchestra, feed the body, love.
The blind work in the shadows and call the master crazy.
That’s not what a woman looks like, they say, but in truth she does.
In the ocean all things turn and there is no up down.
I kiss you in the evening, and it is also morning,
and someone else is dying in a wooden bed,
and someone else is being born,
and someone else is wondering what it would be to be kissed,
and when I blink my eyes open I have forgotten your face,
and the shape of your thumb,
and which side of your eye the tears ran from,
but nothing is gone.
It is all remembered in ocean in another form.
So when you recognized me across a crowded room
it is only remembering.
This is love: to remember who we are, turn our ear to the music
and no longer play alone.
Everyone who crosses your path is there to help you return.
There are no mistakes in the ocean.
Everything is of use and is used.
Throw your packages overboard, dive into the deep waters.
It is not possible to drown.
The ocean loves, and exists for no other purpose than to love.
This is what I know about ocean,
says the girl.
Ah, and are you afraid of forgetting?
asks the ocean.
There is no going back to shadow,
says the girl.
Once the master saw the true face of woman,
he could not paint it only one way, but a multitude of ways.
All of them true. I have held the ocean.
The waters I feared have embraced me,
and I cannot be undrowned.
Ah, but can you contain it all?
asks the ocean.
I don’t know, says the girl. This body is small,
and sometimes feels near breaking.
Daughter, remember in a dream meeting your true lover,
the shimmering her body awoke in yours,
how all you had not planned was in the end perfect,
so you would never have to let her go?
It wasn’t a dream.
This was your abundant self.
That line between breasts.
That head on thigh.
That wrap of legs.
This too was your body, electric, shimmering, containing the whole.
When the violinist rejoins the orchestra,
he is as big as the whole song
he doesn’t fear the vibration will break his small instrument’s casing,
or his own.
If the waters break you open what have you lost?
asks the ocean.
My ability to picture what I remember in my mind,
says the girl.
Exactly, says the ocean.
The travelers line the rail of the steamer as if they know the ocean,
the depth beneath them, the color of deep water fish and coral.
They imagine the whale from the flick of the tail,
and settle into their folding chairs with a drink, a magazine, ready for a nap.
They don’t know they are already sleeping.
Daughter, you awakened, but even awake there is forgetting.
The master, and the man who paints with a sponge mop, are not one.
I will not forget you, says the girl.
Do only what is true, says the ocean.
There is a man with a colorful smile and a drink in hand.
You can enjoy him, a kiss, a roll of body & laughter, and compromise nothing.
It is like buttered toast in the morning.
But your artist wears his soul in his body. They are nearly one.
Hold your hand open to him with caution. Not the caution of fear,
but the caution that says, Listen - there is a beauty played out in the universe.
Listen until you hear your hearts join in.
You know this now, says the ocean, the different truths
of the familiar face and the one that startles.
How many times do you think Picasso tried to blink that image away,
return the woman to her first form, lovely and familiar?
He could not because he was a master.
He had remembered his part in the beautiful play of God.
I am ocean. I pour into and out of your mouth, your eyes, your skin.
Do not try to put me in a jar.
Cast your jewels in the water. They will not get lost, only brighten,
and return to you in a more startling form.
Sit in these pools of seeing, without blinking.
A master’s every action is love.
Kiss my mouth and taste your own.
My lips or yours, there is no separate, no you, no me,
no joining no leaving.
Now what do you know,
asks the ocean.
We are born forgetting,
says the girl, and we live a long remembering.
And I am learning to love you.
Not learning, says the ocean.
Remembering that you do.
Thank you, says the girl,
for your patience with my stumbling.
My pleasure, says the ocean.
You are only stumbling on my rocks and shores,
and I have all the time in the world.