I sailed from El Salvador to Belize. I sailed from there to Jericho. I wiped floors and made beds. I listened to the rhythms of politesse in a hundred languages. I knew what please meant with a look, a timbre. I knew what insecurity, anger, confusion meant in men with money and no purpose; I knew the taste of food cooked too long, the stench imprisoned below somehow, to make a home in my clothes, before they could escape above. I carried those smells around as I slipped in to occupied rooms as women in white pants and gold chains left their rooms, clicking down the halls … their shoes slapping against their soles.
I sailed to old Roman empires where heads were boastful but stomachs were humble. I sailed to Mersin where gypsies saw my life at the bottom of a coffee cup. I watched the golden men in linen pants kiss other men in linen pants and ignore me as they passed. I wore a white sheath that covered my collarbone, the Acanthus Leaf of a body, where the architecture of lust begins. I wore sleeves to my wrists and a white Juliet cap made of blue yarn, my old hair – as old as four suns, suppressed by black metal pins.
I was indoors looking through portholes, as the glaciers and whales swished by, the water suspending my life from and to each port. I saw the color of my eyes as I passed a mirror, only allowing myself a punctilious glance. And they were deep as a burnt match. I remembered they had flecks of green and blue in the sunlight. I remember a boy on the steps of St. Olav’s noticing the colors, before even I did. That was long ago, when I lived on the land.
I learned that the soul is as deep and oracular as the sea, where glistening caves are obscured by sun and shadow. I knew the glistening was both sacred and terrifying, and that death in their farthest depths was equally as sure in both. I knew the backways and doorways that led to tunnels. I knew the soft ways and the silent ways that happen when everyone is looking, the ways that only the needy know.
I knew the feeling of regret and washed it away with leaving. I knew the feeling of soft hands and cheap sheets and small spaces. I knew the feeling of leaving. Of being left.
After a while, the smiles become one and language devolves from nuance to crude gesture – to grunts and stammers. I was on the sea now for fifteen years. I had gone from young girl to ripe woman, all my features fully realized – at their most beautiful. My cheekbones were sharp against fleshy cheeks, my eyes were deeper now but still large, still clear. My hair was thick. My arms were slender. My back was narrow and long. I am a woman, now too big for this room at the bottom of the ocean. Now ashamed for myself and for the women in gold chains and the men who give me a silent hello.
I have become the smell of overcooked food. I have become the Juliet cap. I have become the woman lain open on the table, golden-haired child removed. I am the lady of a thousand languages, a thousand gestures, a single smile. I have gone to the depths of the deepest caves, into its serpentine promise of a miracle – that is a brighter sun, a new escape, a time to start again. I saw the lie of mystery, the sadness of a shroud, the hunger of a thousand eyes. But I did not die. I did not die. I did not die.
I sailed from Port Aux Basques to the Port of Kotzebue. I sailed from there to Jericho.
Natalie Campisi is a Tampa-born freelance writer now living in Los Angeles. Her words can be seen on everything from billboards and shampoo bottles to the Associated Press and alt weeklies… and a screenplay, too. In previous lives she was a journalist, a copywriter, an editor, a director, a producer, etc. Campisi studied philosophy and French. She has a son, a husband, a dog.