As a kid growing up in Washington, I had a giant admiration for Slick Watts. “Downtown” Freddie Brown too, of course, swishing rainbow jumpers from deep. If there had been a three-point line back then, forget about it; you would’ve needed a pinball machine to keep score. But Slick Watts was first. Slick Watts of the Seattle SuperSonics—bald in a league otherwise unanimously sporting afros and longish hair. He wore a headband when nobody else did. He invented the scoop shot! And if I’m misremembering—if others deployed it too—then I don’t want to know. Slick Watts ruled, and I used to imitate him while going against invisible defenders in my driveway.
If you’re betting that I liked the Seahawks, though, you lose. Nunca. Nada. By the time they added Tampa Bay and Seattle, I was already a wild-thing Raiders’ fan. I used to run through other kids’ arm tackles, thinking (maybe even chanting aloud), “Mark van Eeghen, Mark van Eeghen.” I watched Kenny Stabler’s 1974 miracle pass to Clarence Davis, knocking the Dolphins from the playoffs. What a happiness launch pad! And I saw Rob Lytle fumble before the goal line, saw the Raiders recover, saw the referees conspire to give the Denver Broncos the ball back and a free pass to Super Bowl XII. Which they lost, karmically, 27 to 10.
Anyway, sports. I’m saying I liked them a bit. So when it came time to write a report on a famous person’s biography, who do you think I picked?
Before him, everyone who wanted to explore underwater had to do it like Captain Nemo, wearing that lead-boots/air-hose contraption dreamt up by—no kidding—Leonardo da Vinci; that’s how dated the design was. Well, Jacques Cousteau wanted to swim not trundle, so he went to work inventing scuba gear: self-contained underwater breathing apparatus. The fact that he used English for the acronym is just further proof he knew what he was doing. Americans had all the televisions. It was mainly to kids like me that he was bringing the Good News. I’m saying, when I grew up I wanted to play in the NFL or NBA, but I wanted to be Jacques Cousteau.
I planned on majoring in marine biology, but it didn’t work out that way. Instead, I went with literature and writing, and I can’t say I regret it. A lot of the time, though, I find myself writing about sharks; or the coastline, seagulls, coral reefs, humpbacks, manta rays, salmon, and waves. The Ocean.
Jungians and astrologers could probably offer reasons, even interesting ones that I might be glad to hear. A mermaid could maybe add her take on it, saying some are just more irretrievably spell-cast than others. I don’t know. Love isn’t easy to quantify. It’s easier to go ahead and praise it, and Friday is Epiphany, marking the end of the holiday season, so why not?
I’m going to offer up one of my ocean poems now, but I’m also going to ask you a favor: Down in the comment box, add your own praise song or thank you, as if Terrain.org were the table we sit down around and raise our glasses. Because sometimes it is.
Standing at Half Moon Bay State Beach, Facing West: A Shark Song
I like how they live, the way they hunt sea lions, the way they attack those meat loaves
when they flop in off the rocks. What glorious feeding:
the silent, giant hunger underwater with its blank eyes, gallery of teeth,
its jaws thrown forward, impossibly wide, then down with dispassion, thrashing
its catch—a bloody avalanche— ripping out a hundred pounds each bite,
returning through clouds of torn blubber for more, the dorsal fin cutting like a scythe…
what glorious food: seals full of salmon full of grunion spiced with krill.
I remember Thanksgiving at a rich friend’s home, having goose stuffed with duck stuffed with quail,
all seasoned with tangerine blossoms and cloves, basted in whiskey,
served with a sauce from currants and plums. It’s got to be heaven tearing in.
It must be god-like to survive a million years, to be perfected:
Devourer of Ocean Life, Terror to Man, absolutely unmoved by and worthy of our praise…
may they outlast us. May the seas swim with good things to eat.
Rob Carney’s fourth book, 88 Maps, was published by Lost Horse Press (distribution by University of Washington Press). Previous books and chapbooks include Story Problems and Weather Report, both from Somondoco Press.