Tuesday, November 16, 2010


(Maya Deren)


The 1944 film by Maya Deren

The title
Is a gag, of course.
When someone says
That he’s “at sea,”
He means that he’s
Not in his element.
What if you were of sea, but
At land?

We begin with waves,
Then we see the woman
Washed up,
Coughed out of the sea
Onto the sand;
On her back, wide-eyed,
She watches gulls
Wheel overhead
Like buzzards.

She hoists herself up
On a ladder of
Driftwood, as if
Climbing a dead tree --
Not trying
To reach for the sky, but just
Peering through leaves.

She sees
A long banquet table.
Men and women seated
All along both sides of it,
Talking, laughing,
And smoking.
She crawls up
On the white tablecloth,
Slithers among them.
They don’t see her.
They keep up
Their conversation.
She crawls on.
Somehow she doesn’t
Spill their glasses.

At the far end of the table
Lies a chessboard.
Just before she reaches it,
The man using it rises,
Leaves his place.
She looks at it
As if not comprehending
What a chessboard
Might be for.
Didn’t they have chess
Undersea? The pieces
Now move by
Her eyes follow their sliding.
One knocks another
Off of the board,
Off of the table; it falls through a hole
In the rock below
Into the sea.

She follows it down,
Her bare feet finding
Heated by sun,
Moistened by waves.
She probably
Is not aware
That what she follows
Would be called
“A pawn,” or of anything
That the word “pawn” implies --
This mermaid we’ve mistaken
For a woman.

The story will go on,
Such as it is.
Witnesses will argue later
Over what it meant.
The wiser ones will see
The beauty in it.

-- © 2010 by Jack Veasey

(All rights reserved. This work may not be reproduced or duplicated in any form without the author's written permission. )

I'm eternally grateful to my late teacher, Alexandra Grilikhes, for introducing me to Maya Deren's work many years ago (among other things).

For more information about the brilliant filmmaker/actress/dancer/theorist Maya Deren, read her Wikipedia entry:

For those who haven't seen the film, here it is, as generously posted on Google Video. It's about 15 minutes long, and well worth the investment of time. It's absolutely beautiful.

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