Fisher," from Collected Poems. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin
clear; water so smooth sargassum weed floats on surface, motionless.
Art knows it is
our turn, the turn of the lens-divers and the joy-divers. He gears up
cheerfully. He drops me gently off the stern, and I gear up in the water, still
sparing the back. I level off and, clearing my ears, glide down slowly....
This at last is
it: the magic mansions of the sunlit reef, the heaven below. I swim down
through liquid green heavens, down through the poem of the sea. Down to
delicate castles of convoluted corals, pale fish and rainbow-hued fish, fishes
supple and rigid, festoons of fish, festooning the coral festoons of the reefs.
I set out on my explorations through waters satin smooth. I am a small child
again. It is Christmas; I want to see everything, everything I see I want. I am
a child in a summer field. I run from daisy to dandelion, from branch to bee to
butterfly. I seem to touch, lift, pick, gather everything; but somehow I am
always empty-handed. I go up and down, over and around the reef....
I am looking at
an upended pipefish when I have an uneasy impression: something big and strange
is following me. I rotate swiftly. Something is, something amazing: a thing
part human, part fish, part machine, part firefly, and all held together
somehow with strings. It is Dave in a scuba with a flashlight camera. He
sprawls like a giant sea spider, trying to remain motionless while he focuses.
His long legs, looking curiously thin and attenuated, end in big woolen socks,
which are tied with strings at the ankle. They slosh over the heels of his
giant blue flippers. He is wearing a purple shirt and red, blue and green
Scotch plaid shorts. His hair stands on end, gently waving in the slight
current. His black breathing tubes are like great mustachios. Behind his
sea-washed mask, his eyes look like boiled onions. A blue plastic knife sheath
dangles on a string from his wrist. Over his head, behind the big rusty tank,
floats a black string bag full of white flashbulbs. He wriggles nearer, shoving
his plastic-encased camera ahead of him. It looks like a big captive jellyfish.
Then his flashlight pops and for a magical second Dave disappears completely in
the flash. When I see him again he is losing his balance as he tries to snag a
fresh bulb out of the string bag floating over him.
Art, with only mask, flippers and spear, is a thrilling sight to behold as he
prowls the sea. But Dave, held together by strings, Dave, who really isn't that
passionate about "diving," is an inspiring one. He is modern man with
all his weaknesses, resolute to conquer new worlds: his photographs are among
the first records of man's new dominion under the Salt Curtain.
It is Louisa who
first spots below her the big moray eel swaying in a pocket under a six-foot
coral head shaped like a toadstool. She goes up and gets Art, who plummets
down, beckons to me, and we swim to the moray's hole. While Art goes up for his
interim lungful of air, I lie on the bottom, looking at the moray from a
respectful distance. Three nasty feet of his slowly swaying, thigh-thick body
jut out of the hole. He is the color of a rotten avocado. The end of his
banana-shaped head is twain-split by a gaping mouth studded with rows of spiked
teeth. Before I see Art, I see the spear hit. It pierces the neck of the
loathsome creature. He shudders convulsively back into his hole. A thin plume
of blood comes out of a crevice near the top of the coral toadstool, dissolves
like smoke in blue water. Art goes up, comes down with a second spear. He peers
in the hole, then swims around fast to the other side of the coral head.
Cautiously I swim around after him. Not cautiously enough: there I am mixed up
in a hideous brawl. Art's second spear has landed next to his first one in the
eel's neck. Art is dragging at his spears, while a long slimy green tail,
lashing furiously, tries to free the head it belongs to. Breathing fast, I
start to swim away. But Art swims after me, and passes me the twice-speared
eel. I am horrified, but I take it, because I know now that whatever Art tells
me to do I can probably do safely. I spread the spears, holding them like the
handle bars of a bicycle. As I flipper hard to the surface, the stabbed eel
fastens its jaws around the nearest shaft, the tail gives one last anguished
thrash, then body and tail coil themselves into a great slimy ball around
suffering head and jaws which gnaw the spears helplessly.
Sydney gaffs the
ugly thing from the water. He shakes it out over the side of the boat. It is
five feet long. Then he lets it slither into the fish box among Art's and Don's
other but handsomer victims.
I feel depressed
by the slaughter of the moray. For a while, I bottom-swim after flounders as
they plop along in the sand looking up with their black button eyes which are
where any other creature's (except the octopus') shoulder blades are. The
beauty of the reef slowly captures me again. I follow a small school of purple
and gold fairy bass until they disappear under a ledge. Coles joins us and
suddenly begins to behave in an extraordinary manner. He points under the
ledge, then rolls over on his back, flips his hands in the air, rolls back on
his face, looks at me eagerly. I proceed to do the same, though what it is all
about I don't know. Coles shakes his head violently, points again, and goes
through his "Fido-roll-over" routine, and again looks at me hopefully.
Utterly baffled, I shrug my tubes and flipper away after a pair of French
angelfish, until I lose them in the gorgeous Gorgonian gardens of the
On board Coles
tells me he was trying to show me, by imitation, that the blue and gold Gramma
(the fairy bass) always swims upside down under ledges. Why, he couldn't