Now, when I sit on the shore of our troubled little town on the Gulf of Mexico, I make believe that the water is blue and not the brown, polluted liquid that stinks of grease and decay, that suffocates the skin with a coat of sticky film. I try to imagine it as it was seen once by the eyes of our ancestors, the fishermen who congratulated themselves for thriving in a place that would feed their children and their children’s children and so on, a legacy of nourishment in every canoe, every net. I close my eyes and forget about our hunger. I hold my breath and pray that the filth will settle on the ocean floor, never to be stirred into rage again.
But this fantasy doesn’t last. Always the betrayal of the wind. In the breeze, the taste of smoke, not the taste of salt, though I keep my mouth opened towards the sea and not towards the factories, their noisy metal bodies hunched behind me like exhausted creatures from some distant world. They have journeyed from so far away just to tell us the same terrible news each hour: the land is dead, the water is dead, the people are slowly dying, a death that began the moment some crooked politician with crooked teeth sold our town to the outsiders. Our fishermen have lost something great. And so have I.
I sit on the shore of our troubled little town on the Gulf of Mexico, and I make believe that you return from the depths of the ocean on two feet like a biblical miracle. My beloved Alfonso, the champion swimmer of the entire eastern coast, defeated by the waste because we live in a place that rejects the purity of anything–air, earth, water, and love.
In my mind I resurrect your skin, how you must have been born by moonlight to carry such iridescence, how your pregnant mother must have swallowed a pearl in the oyster, back in the days when such cravings were still possible. In the sea you were like the dolphin, playful and quick and joyous. In the bedroom you were more like a marlin, clumsy and rigid and–dare I say it? will you forgive my mischief?–spasmodic, like a fish bouncing on the deck of a fisherman’s boat.
Once you worried about us getting older, about the town no longer tolerating the capricious romance of our youth. “Our sleep-overs are numbered,” you said, and my body grew clammy because I knew the truth of that declaration would come back to haunt me for the rest of my days.
In our troubled little town on the Gulf of Mexico, one young man’s affection for another young man was just another tragedy. How we worried our mothers because we hadn’t married. How we frightened our fathers because our laughter on the beach seemed so out of touch with the reality of our losses: no more fishing, no more wading, no more searching for the most intact seashell or fishbone or seaweed. Our task was to collect the broken litter: plastic bags like traumatized jellyfish, spidery threads like octopi that had been starved to wiry membranes.
“What do you suppose this is?” I asked you once as I held out a transparent tube.
You took it from my hands and began to pantomime your list: “A galactic periscope, a high-tech kazoo, a robot’s ear canal.” You handed it back to me. “The soul of a rose, my darling.”
I pocketed the tube, which was against the rules. All refuse had to be buried at the foot of the mountain like secret stillborns. At night, your mother clutches a rosary to plead for your salvation. At night, I clutch the soul of the rose and keep your love for me sacred. I sit on the shore of troubled little town on the Gulf of Mexico, and I try to erase that morning you washed up, just another piece of lifeless flotsam. How no one stopped me from throwing myself on the sand and leaving an imprint of my grief–a fish flailing toward its last breath. When they took your body to your mother’s hut I stayed behind because I knew you were still at sea, my beloved dolphin boy, my beloved marlin man.
“We need another diver,” the fat outsider from the factory said, as if you could be so easily replaced. If the town’s best swimmer could succumb to the sludge, anyone else going down to check the clogged sewage pipes would certainly perish.
Someone eventually took that risk and we expect his body to return to us any day now. The townspeople are angry and there is talk of an uprising, but emotions will recede like the tide and they will go back to being the troubled little town on the Gulf of Mexico with a beach that is no longer theirs. I know about such surrender.
And so I simply sit and wait, the self-designated watchman on the ugly fringe of the beautiful sea, imagining heaven as it is for you, as it will be for me.