They were making a documentary on the big hurricane, and
they'd no footage of the woman who'd drowned in her living
room. An actor, then, would need to recreate that scene.
At the audition, they asked each of us to improvise the drowning
woman's thoughts. Here is my monologue in its entirety (I
performed it atop an armchair while clawing at imaginary
window moldings near the ceiling):
On the question of why I am not swimming (for I can),
was it not Cato who said, "Never am I more active
than when I do nothing, never am I less alone than
when I am by myself"?
The ocean in my house... Everything I was taught was
not possible has happened, and in my lifetime, which is
at its end.
Is it all the times I let the water run while shaving my
legs because I did not think it was personal? Water,
you know me. And you are here for your revenge...
Shall my world perish that justice be done?
Yes, yes, a thousand times yes she said and no one
(How often, how very, very often, have I felt that I was drowning
in my own living room. That's why I would be so good for this
This water is so dirty though. Disgusting water.
[Cue an image of Faustus exiting the tavern by riding
a wine cask through the air... And then I, astride my
dishwasher, zoom away after him... just kidding]
This is not a new feeling.
One soul, fluctuating in the waters! [extra flailing]
This house was my life.
When you find my dead body you will finally see my
The true catastrophe is... [drowns]
...I did not get the part.
Everything goes somewhere. I went into an aquifer. In northern
Canada. (I am here right now.)
Now, when I complain there's a weight on my chest, I am
nothing but literal: there are several strata of rock compressing
me. (It feels so good!)
There are others down here too. We don't talk, trying as we each
are to acquaint ourselves with inwardness.
What to ask another human also trapped in an aquifer... (Hey,
did you jump down a well too?)
Of course, in an aquifer, one must acquit one's self always
without tears, lest the salt contaminate the water supply. (Uh,
aren't you a contaminate yourself?)
There goes the guy next to me. First there's a quiver, then he's
sucked back up into the world. From the via contemplativa to the via
(Hey buddy, I too overflow
(in thought... in thought... in deed: what?)
If even a mere acquaintance did not know me better than i know
This morning I am too tired to take up the question before me.
At this coffee shop there are men talking in groups of 2 or 3
about politics. (What they're really talking about is violence.)
They are retired, so they have the time.
I am thinking of last night's dream, of my laptop falling through
water (we all know the meaning of that), a dream I remember
only because as I was swimming down to retrieve it, my child
awoke, having wet the bed.
And just now, as these men were talking, I was thinking that I am
better than them, because I have always wanted to join a peace brigade.
And then, this question:
If someone had hidden my child from me, would I waterboard
him to find her?
The answer (I want to give) is: no.
Have to think this through. Have to read and
Though it is not a thinking and research question. (Do
you see now why I am too tired?)
And if the answer is no, then I cannot waterboard him, though
my child be suffering, perhaps acutely, and he alone knows the
cupboard she is locked in. (Real child or ideal?) (The exception
proves the rule?) (No it undermines it every time.)
If I have to bathe this man that i loathe.
Bathe him, who has hurt my child, gently, and then give him
small sips from a glass of milk, comb his wet hair down... and all
the while the sounds of her screaming are broadcast through the
I read a little bit (only a little) and am back.
Still, I don't know how to conclude.
"We are drops in that limitless ocean of mercy"
-is something that Gandhi said.
(taken out of context!)
(though i will say that he said it toward the end of his life, when
he had lost hope)
Even imagining bathing the imagined kidnapper has made my
real bathtub abhorrent to me. I am going to go home now, and
As I leave the coffee shop, I bow to the men.
It is best not to think of solutions to problems.
Just now, for instance:
The baby was crying. Probably hunger.
And I thought of how a baby whale is called a calf, just as a baby cow is.
From there it was not too far a leap into the ring. (Spi-ral! Spi-ral! the children, hands clasped, chant during the circle game.)
What if we were to drink whale milk instead?
It might feel strange at first to milk a nearly hairless animal.
Also, different equipment.
Dairy farmers should be deep-sea diving certified.
Shouldn't it be much more efficient?
A humpback whale calf = twice the size of the tallest adult human. Think of the quantity of milk the mother must produce!
Also, I think it's true that whale calves don't suckle, that mother whales use special muscles to squirt out the milk. This would save on energy. The new equipment might be, as they say, very eco-friendly.
Plus, whale milk is very rich!
It is such a good solution to the problem.
It is such a good solution that I can trace it far into the future.
I can trace it past the whale farms and cages to the boutiques of cage-free whale milk. Layers of blubber thinning over successive generations of whale depression.
And now the past and future overpower me, and I offer no resistance.
How ironic the "wheep-wheep-wheep" of the whales' song (we have no notion of its real meaning) will sound to our ears once we begin milking them.
If I could get back to the present moment, I could again hear the human baby cries coming through my window.
I cannot climb the stairs.
...Now it is the next morning. I add these thoughts:
The above reasonings, though a farce, are likely to convince some. I must never speak of this idea.
Also, I have made mention of the sounds of whales and the cries of human babies. But the cows! Their lowing.
What it means exactly who is to say. But it seems important to note it here. That noise that cows make.
(And that name we gave it, lowing. How pretty and soft, and sad, and depleted.)
This morning I awoke in a tunnel. On one end (I can smell it) is the ancient memory of a forest. On the other is an ocean that has ears, that can hear everything in my head. (I don't know how I know this.)
Really, I am at a coffee shop.
And I must put this notebook in my red backpack and leave very very soon, and take up my real life.
But in my real life, really, I am in the tunnel, at whose end, in the direction that I am traveling, is an ocean that has ears.
What can it hear?
(How to go on in real life, without lies!)
(My grandmother on husbands: "they don't need to know everything")
I have one minute, which means, I do not have time to continue, this is not a lie.
But check back with me again soon when I will have swum in that ocean, which will drown out all my lies. (If I haven't survived that nakedness please cover my body quickly, or look away.)
-Hi! It's me. It's the next day. I contemplated all the self lies for as long as i could (not long, truthfully). And then i vomited. (it's an ocean of vomit around here!)
(totally lying. it's only ten minutes later. and that's enough)
Even in a drought one must never forsake licking.
But (I know your protest) my tongue is so dry.
I know it is. And yet, you must wring water from the very thing that most wants to absorb it.
(How easy it is for me to say this this morning. Outside it is drizzling!)
It is true that I am not as advanced as many ascetics.
No convent has yet accepted me and I am already mid-life.
I must let my failures be my points of pride.
It must be easy to be a water nun in a desert, I say. Try it, I say, standing all day by the foul cisterns of the heretics (kitchen sinks).
All night I make my bed to swim. I water my couch with tears.
Let it be said that so ardent was her faith that she stood by the brink of the river, evaporating it water molecule by water molecule with her hair dryer.
So ardent was her faith that she even licked the sand on the very spot on which the riverbed had lain, like one athirst.
In nothing too much.
They called me. I was called upon.
When asked to save a coral reef, I wonder if it is natural to think of an air
conditioner. (i thought of an air conditioner.)
Train the ac vent right on the reef/cool the reef water right down.
And so I said it, the beautiful American word sure, and I bought a beautiful long
extension cord, and I dove in.
The water was an invitation. The ac shot straight and sure.
Its blast was so noisy that I didn't hear the screaming. (Yes, there was some general movement of polyps and fish in the direction opposite of where I was standing, but it looked more choreographed than chaotic.)
Then I shut off the ac and prepared to surface. I heard, coming from the reef, the sound of a crowd screaming, panic, babies howling.
I panicked too. That's why I put the ac back on! To drown the sound.
Then to calm down, I tried to list coral reef creatures. A vague, orangey image surfaced in my mind but wouldn't stay. It darted, in my head, in and out of vast civilizations of white marbled citadels and holy places.
The ac was still on. I was thinking, if I were a journalist, I'd plunge further in and investigate the screams. If I were a scientist, I'd record the noise for later analysis. If I were a mother, I'd never be a soldier! There's a job for everyone.
If I were a person, just a person, I'd have been one of the ones screaming. Maybe I was? Maybe I was. It was so hard to hear with that ac on.
Later Addendums and Corrections to the Statement
It's not me shooting in that video.
I never left the office.
I had meant to. I was on my way to. I had signed out the most powerful ac the office had. But I didn't purchase an extension cord for the ocean. That's ridiculous! I requisitioned a generator and a boat.
The office's wetsuit fitting room was as far as I got. I sat in the stall reading a report on the reef.
I overthought the whole thing. How the generator would just make things, overall, hotter, when we wanted to do the opposite. But how it would cool off my reef, and that was all I was assigned to care about.
Fun, foam, freedom!
Sometimes a task is so absurd.
Although a paycheck is not.
The wetsuit was totally unnecessary, as initial reports showed the water to be nice and warm. (Thus the need for the ac!)
Officially, the reef wasn't a reef but a coral atoll.
Do not ask for whom the bell tolls! haha
Please don't write that down.
A coral atoll in a lagoon of an ancient sunken island.
Sometimes you have to crumble the paper and start all over again.
Raze the whole civilization if it no longer makes sense.
I do, as a side note, love the ways in which ours does not make sense. For instance, how raze and raise are homonyms and antonyms!
Or how farther and further both mean a great distance, and both impel one to keep going, and yet in America, one never knows if one should keep going a great physical distance or a great figurative distance...
If that last one makes no sense, please also strike it.
And I never got as far as the atoll. I have a PO for an ac, a generator, a wetsuit. But no plane ticket.
On the video, everything is floating along, flowing, gurgling in its own little grid of reality.
Then everything scrambles. All movement is in the opposite direction. It's as if the video were suddenly on fast-forward.
They said the video captured no sound.
But I heard the screaming. Which was why I had to put the ac back on.
Darcie Dennigan is the author of three collections: Corinna A-Maying the Apocalypse, Madame X, and PALACE OF SUBATOMIC BLISS. She's currently working with composer Jason Thorpe Buchanan on the libretto for an opera version of Knut Hamsun's Hunger and with artist Carl Dimitri on Age of Aquarius Risorgimento.
Image: "Arctic Sea Ice" (detail) 2015 by Carl Dimitri