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The Deepness of the Land

Corbin Muck

I watched the water move the stones. They were black and round and rolling. They had been formed twice-over: first by long stillness and then by the smooth clicking pulse of the waves. That was the ground you knew best – that which could be touched by the lunge of your arm – was what formed the lie that drove you ashore.

A morning taut and grey. The breeze carrying away the smell of dead things that is the sea. It pushed all that to the far back, another edge smoothed by the stone-filled waves. The familiar smell was replaced with freshness. Crisp, as if all below was life and movement and the push of muscle. Like you were. There was something so alive in your deepness. Something that made me sink into you. To believe you as I dropped into the deepening power of your purpose. It convinced me that you could conquer the land, subsume it.

But you could never take the land. We learned that together. The dry, grey cliffs and mountains were beyond you and unknowable. That shore that you knew – that steam-borne mix of tide and form, pummelling to an endless purpose – held little of the true land in its push and pull of black jewels. Beyond where we stood was solidness. You didn’t believe me. How could the land’s deepness be so unlike where it first touched the sea? How do things harden so much as they move back and away from where they first meet? I had no answers, so we went forward together.

The solidness you would find would drive you back to the shift of the sea. You didn’t know it yet, but that’s where you would retreat to. Far from me again. For the second time abandoning that which was solid for that which was pliable and slim between your fingers. First me, then all of it.

But that was later.

This was before. When you walked out of the sea and right up to me. It was chance, you would say later. Chance that we happened upon one another so immediately. Chance that I had come out to scrape the long-set barnacles away from my life and tear upon the task of living. But it wasn’t chance. I had come every day to see you among the surf. My thoughts of you – the nagging, shimmering idea of you in my mind – drove me again and again to the shoreline. A trickle of constant thoughts. Rain seared against the ravaged porous soil that drains down and down until it finds some unfilled space poised for erosion and occupation. Unbroken. Constant. Carving and filling and emptying solidness into gaping caverns. Rock carved by no drip in particular but by all drips falling one after the other. These drips – little by little – become more monstrous and disfiguring than all the thrown tempests of the sea.

So I knew. And so I waited. Like one of those barnacles that I stooped to scrape. Like the long excoriations of my arm on the winter air. Thrashes to unmoor the hangers-on which reflected my face. All beset by salt and the smeared blood-green colours of life. Among the rocks I clung, ducking below the sharp blades of the sky.

You startled me. I remember that. I had spent so long guessing at the sound of your voice that when I truly heard it I jumped at the sound. The crash of a wave. All my time spent hearing you from afar had convinced me that your voice was all the voices; that a single wave has the sound of a tide. But it doesn’t. It is edged. It is sudden. It holds the implicating breath of its crash in each sound. And I was drunk on the purposefulness of your words, which for a while felt very much like the only thing that needed to matter.

You have to understand that – despite my patience and planning and diligence and desperation – I did not know what to do with you. I held you, but my arms shook at any other implication. I had waited for you endlessly and found the habit hard to break. I watched your eyes watch mine; I waited for your body to be done waiting for mine. The daily detritus of thought was swept away and clean at your arrival. I was pure. A basin poured free of its murkiness only to be refilled and idle. The stillness of the between sucked at me.

Until you moved to me unmistakably. Until you planted your toes on each step of ground that separated us. That ground which you sought to conquer, to master, and to be made steady upon. I have never seen such deep tracks. Deep, carved canyons.

And Jesus we thrashed into one another. It was the breaking of the storm. It was that wind through the strait when it met the hard granite beneath me now. It shook the place to hell. The rocks of the shore tumbled anew, and no latch could keep the windows against each rising gale. You said things. Things I couldn’t understand. And it wasn’t because I was lost in you and that I was deafened and dumbed and emptied; it was because you were speaking to someone and something like but not of me. My own shadow. Something that had perhaps spoken to you as I had; something with its own boat and barnacles and scraping until its and my blood mingled among the same shore. Something born of my same stillness that you saw doubled, shaded, and watching you with four eyes as the foam cleared.

I realised something about you. I forget it now, but I knew it then. It rose and slapped me in the after-stupor. You didn’t notice. You were communing still, if silently, to the ripples around us. But I remember enough to know I have forgotten something important in those moments, and that helps explain the rest in a way.  

Outside, the pines smothered the sky. We had not come far from the sea, but each step had been upon another world, and distance does not govern familiarity. Home is a sight beset by crumbling recognition. You forgot that at first. At first you were cast upon something that seemed a swell of newness to you but smacked of nothing but stillness to me. Those day-murdering pines could be swam around and admired; the ferns that had never been fully dry of the rain swayed up towards your gliding hands. Your eyes fought their way through the earth-mining bramble to the dry darknesses unknown. You smiled at it all as if it were your new home. Even then, between the tumbles of the rocks, I hoped it would be. Your earliest revels were mine too. I don’t know if you knew that. That I wanted it for you as much as you did. But you underestimated the grit. You couldn’t have known the tight grip that the land keeps on us as we move by its allowance. You forgot the land for what it was: certainty.

So when we were there, ships after the storm, cast upon the rocky shoals of my one sheet between us, we found ourselves with nothing to say. I thought that you thought it was normal, so I remained silent. This was when you first heard the silence of certainty. The crust and grime. The dust that can be wiped away time and time and time again but resettles. I am that dust. We are that grime. You felt your fingers between themselves for the currents that washed them clean. They were not here. Nor were they under the plaid pillow, or along the rough-wood frame. You held your hands up, hoping something would come to wash them. And we both watched those long, delicate shells aloft in silence.

When I tried to speak, my voice sounded hoarse. You smiled. You nodded. You implored me to more, but we both knew it was because you hoped that words were the waves you expected. But my words are not waves. They are cairns I arrange behind myself to mark where I have been. Sometimes they can be thrown forward, to land in the sea or the inscrutable under-story, but those are soon lost. The words that stick are the words which fall just near us. Land. Settle. And move on to the next. You hated those words as they accumulated, as they began to fill in on top of one another.

When comes the wave? When comes the clean new meanings?

No wave comes for me. I am ever building. Somewhere between dung-beetle and mountain.

You walked the halls when I slept. What few there were. You overlooked everything that, like my words, had accumulated aside me. There were pictures. There were papers. There were books. There were paintings and scrawlings. There were smooth-handles and chipped metal. There were barnacles that had gathered so long I had mistaken them for the wood of my craft. I sheared away at the other things, the new things that took. My hands scarred.

I knew, as I watched you move in the cabalic darkness of the trees and sky, that your tide had come. I saw you now at your crest to me. You mourned. I was not what you imagined. But you had imagined so much, and the land is not the sea.

I wished then, as I do now, that I could shift first at your waist and spread across your body like water. That I could fight or enhance your strokes. That I could wash over and past you as much as I press upon you and be born upon hot climes of distance. But I cannot. I sit. I build and I gather. Your eyes find me the same way they find the settled remains of a long-dead whale; once something, now calcium for the otherly alive seafloor. A cathedral of bone for cannibals.

I said nothing when you sat upon the bed and gathered yourself. I could tell you wanted me to be awake. I could tell you wanted me to, if in that last moment, fulfil something of the purpose you had thought was my destiny. I denied you it. It was spite. That inertness that you had grown to hate, I used as my only weapon against you. I pretended to sleep with such purpose that I perhaps passed to it without knowing, because at some point you were just gone. You were there, willing a last moment, and then there was nothing but the moment after. No wake left after you, only emptiness.

I didn’t want you to understand; with every part of myself I willed against it – but I could not help to rise. I could not help to run the path whose verdancy had first been your marvel and then the site of your wilting. I could not help but to stumble against the boat and barnacles you mistook as the fate of another. I could not help but surge towards the tumbling rocks to see a last sight of you.

And there you were. Slipping among the embrace of the sea.

Your tide in me has risen and gone. The fullness of you, the drowning, throat-pulsing fullness, fell away just as sudden. It left me open and staring towards the new and imposing ocean, one that knew my secrets and found me and my barnacles and my salt crowns to be boredom itself. Solid. Accumulation. Another dead mystery. I was open and emptied. And all that was left was the memory of you, as rain, piercing through the soil to drip and drip and bend and dip my stone where you once had been.

Corbin Muck is a freelance writer living in Seattle.