deception, Jonah Howell

Originally published in Anima Magazine (2018).

Part I,

in which the ocean is so minutely subdivided that I cannot possibly conceive of it as one mass.

Observe from the edge of the beach that the breaking waves look like the inside of a spool of wire if the spool itself is transparent, showing the wires inside wrapping over in full circles, but of course only half the circle is visible at any time, though a smaller fraction is visible as wrapped wire, while the rest—the stuff in peripheral vision—is only a blur filled in by some mental pencil to look like in-focus wrapped wire would probably look, though here on the beach the wire never quite sits still long enough for that, as the spool rolls constantly and quickly, too quickly for any part of the wire to fix in focus, so it is all the peripheral blur and thus it all attains its look only by expectation; the features of perhaps a speck of focused-on wire spread across the fuzzy remainder, spread by a perhaps overzealous brain or a desperate one, and thus

I push my head inside the alleged wave—or rather the quickly and constantly rolling mass of which at least a small speck

(or a succession of specks masquerading, as

they move, as one speck, like a flipbook with different drawings on every page with each drawing similar enough that if the pages flip by quickly the whole thing looks uncannily immobile)

flashes some property that a wave may reasonably have—

I push my head inside because even from the edge of the beach I can’t see nearly enough detail to discern what exactly…but no, coming closer only intensifies the blurriness, shows the differing details in the specks (to extend the analogy, it slows the flipbook), which confuses me terribly, so I run back up the beach, then down again as distance confounds me again, then back up, etc., so that eventually I see just the oscillating vision of the alleged wave—up-close then far away—and I immerse so fully in that oscillation that the word “wave” comes to refer only to a darkly dynamic confusion and that

my legs begin to burn, running backward up the beach then into the water to try and stuff my head in a ---- (or a what was it again?), so I give up and dive in, splashing electric foam riddled with sharp green angles, a neon etch-a-sketch gone haywire on the backs of my eyelids as salt slips in between them for conductivity; then as I resurface Joseph says, simply, “Big wave,” and I cringe because I don’t understand, but I can’t do a thing about it but say, “Yeah,” and dive in again.

Part II,

in which a single wave is so expansive that I cannot possibly imagine that there is more ocean than it contains.

Observe from the edge of the beach that the waves break over like some impossible general waves, all the waves of Earth at all times feeding into These Waves which likewise coalesce into This Wave right in front of me right now, giving to This Wave the dark confusion and terror that all those waves would jointly conjure: This Wave is a pinpointed universal, paradoxical but also completely present, even more horrifying for its impossibility; This Wave is boundless: It breaks over height and tarnishes the stars’ copper, breaks below the toe-deep depth of the shore to scoop me up, though I’m sure I was only just standing on an inch of water, shallow enough that the shells were still whole, though somehow I’m now fully extended yet can’t touch bottom, so suddenly consumed that I’ve forgotten which way ground is and which way my limbs go, powerless against the almighty turbulence, seeing only sparking green angles that turn each way as I do, darting like a school of fish from Gravity, the shark, until

I drop back onto the same inch-deep shore as before and see This Wave returning, a plough realizing its chore-ground is yet unbroken and resolved to break it, so it sweeps me away again, into all the oceans in one condensed volume just large enough to encapsulate my body, all its turbulences packed into one pocket to twist and contort me in more ways than my brain is adequate to map, so that I would be as good as dissolved for all the sense I have of my body’s borders, were it not for the tirelessly darting angle fish reminding me where is outside of me; but as suddenly as it ate me, the Wave spits me back onto the shore to hear

Joseph say, “Big wave,” and I cringe the sort of cringe I remember from a long time ago—a six-year-old kid with a fever too high, waking every hour or so from another delirious dream where I built Babel with building blocks or golfed in a padded room with no club or ball or holes and then, waking, had to reconcile these with visions of an ordinary bedroom—with nothing to do but say, “Yeah,” before trying, desperately but hopelessly, to dive through two waves.

That is,

a wave drags me out,

returns me. It rolls ashore

again but pulls back

as I, beached again in Nineveh, Virginia,

look out over my whale’s wide back and

up to its horizon where

a pelican in silhouette skims

fish from sunrise-fuchsia ripples.

My skin grows tight and crackles as

salty air threatens to make me a pillar,

to root me to the beach as a warning-sign to other debris.

The whale shuffles shells, pushes pebbles

a foot or two with its each return, dutifully rolling

back and forth, waiting to vomit a saint, one

who can see the ocean and its spray in the same glance.

Jonah Howell lives in North Carolina. His writings are forthcoming in Waxing & Waning and Surfaces, and his collection of poetry and essays, Empathology, will be published by Bleeding Heart Nihilist Books in summer 2019.