Tidal Basin

Germination Detail Part III, by Leslie Shellow

contemplations about what stays in the net

Saturday, August 28, 2010


My novel is hemorrhaging. I've been prodding it to shape up. I've poked at the language until it no longer makes sense. I think I've created some wounds.

The advice is to stop and let it rest: Write something else and come back later, and I will know what to do, as sure as landing after a jump.

I wish I had words to share about the state of our world that might change something fast. I want my novel to show me how to make medicine, but I haven't asked its opinion. Maybe it has other plans. Inasmuch as I am a microcosm of the macro, I edge out to rearrange the places that come within my grasp on this tapestry. I am a slow learner. It takes me many tries to follow my heart. It takes me many mistakes to learn to let go. Perhaps, that is why my novel is mooing like a sick cow. I reach into the stitches to unravel them and make more space. I want my work to serve, yet I am sure I have enslaved it.

I will teach soon. The spirit, the longing, the loss, the distraction, the love, the confusion, the curiosity that is me will stand in front of a roomful of college students and ask them, "Where does writing come from?" And I will listen, because I need to know.

I will ask them to do the impossible and the necessary: write who you are on these pages, don't hold back, find the truth and watch it change in front of your eyes. Then, I will go home, turn on my computer, connect to the internet, open my e-mail, hope that someone has written, notice: not today, open my word document, look at the first line, change it, change it back, erase it, close my word document, check my e-mail, check my heart, shut down the computer, pick up my notebook, open to a messy page, and write:

I curl up
bunching miracles in my claws that
I pull out of the thinnest air.

I hope one is for me.

Suddenly, I will remember that my novel wants to breathe. I will take the last draft I printed and spread Chapter One all around my room on the surfaces of desk, dresser, altar, bed, floor, hamper, trashcan. I will take a highlighter and light up a phrase or sentence from each page.

This is what I will come up with:  

a winged storm cloud
they foraged
"I didn't know I was being watched." 
The mirror was unreliable. 
"Do you need a bag?" 
Jack stared at the birds' feet that landed on the glass.
...and he did see stars and clumps of stars and constellations of black bird feet peppering the glass ceiling
appetizers always served before the main course
They seemed so loud; he wondered how on Earth they didn't reduce the door to a pile of glass shards. 
He would resurrect himself in due time. 
Duke, cosmically single, 
He squinted into the imperfect mirror. 
"Can't see anything, can you?" 
Don't guess its nature. 
They smelled of clumsiness and arguments and perilous rides through the countryside. 
"The hardest thing?"
He was left with no choice.

I will close my notebook and give it a rest. I will hope that when the time comes, I have a pen in my hand.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


I met a woman who met me first. Her eyes landed on my shoulders like butterflies. I questioned the breeze on my ear when they took off again, not knowing its origin. The next thing I noticed was her voice; a low grumble between the branches, a chirp from behind a tree, the swish of breath rushing through a cedar flute. When she wasn’t speaking, I sensed her anyway. After a while, she didn’t need to look or speak. I just knew she was there and when I looked up, I always saw her and she always saw me.

She wrote me. I, her. Our words formed an original landscape, and nothing we wrote could change the presence of mountains or the inevitability of rivers that were to carve broad new channels. She wrote on my body questions I have yet to answer. Does love descend or ascend? Is it fashioned? Or does it appear a dolphin fin cresting a wave if only you scan the horizon long enough?

She rearranged me molecule by molecule so that many doors closed and only a few opened but those that opened led me directly to the place I was all along. She left; she had to, the taste in her mouth the bittersweet maroon berries of harvest, ancestral water-grass, and protein. She took nothing I didn’t offer gladly. If she were to arrive again in the wind or during a full moon, wolf or strawberry, I would thank her for what I became because her eyes landed on my shoulders, her voice whispered through the trees, our words formed an original landscape, and I saw a dolphin in an instant crest a wave and realized they never travel alone.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Tidal Basin Notes

tidal basin
An area that holds water during high tide, especially a body of water in an area subject to tides whose water level is maintained at a desired level by artificial means.

"tidal basin." The American Heritage® Science Dictionary. Houghton Mifflin Company. 20 Aug. 2010. .

tidal basin
A random collection on purpose.

The basin is a wide sleepy mouth.

It fills and empties, empties and fills.

The basin catches and releases. Consumes and expectorates.

What comes in may be examined closely for a short while; an intense get-to-know-you; then, placed back gently in the water. Or thrown. In any manner, given its leave. Which it will take nonetheless.

There may be nothing to hold onto once it's left. Or perhaps, a water-borne footprint: a shaggy jacket of bark from an old stick, a chunk of Styrofoam buoy, or a silver scale.

Don't hold on as if to the collection of seashells stuffed and broken in last summer's paper bag. Rather, become, if momentarily, the scale iridescing, the buoy floating, the stick in the eddy, swirling and drowning.

The basin may be the scene of a crime or embarrassment. But given the pull of the moon, this, too, in time, disappears.

What remains remains to be written.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Deer Hunter

What part of nature is my dog? He has just chased a deer; and I sit and wait for him on the bank of the small trickle called Rock Creek. I sit across from the deer he did not see; a teenager it looks like; unstartled by the commotion of the predator/prey relationship. Urbanized, perhaps even listening to an i-pod, he is crunching through small tufts of grass on the other bank of the skinny stream and looking at me sideways.

Your mother? I ask. He seems unburdened by her flight.

In the distance, I hear my animal backtracking toward me. I glance at the youth. You'd better go now, I whisper. He munches sideways. Light green spittle forms on his lips and drips to the soil. My warrior can be seen trekking the ridge, looking left then right. I know he is not looking for me. His nose is angled skyward and is jerked around by scents I do not smell. He sees me in his periphery. I know this because he acts like he doesn't.

He doesn't see the young deer either, who could care less anyway. Go, I urge. The teen is grinding his grass to a pulp. Well, if you're going to stay, let me get a look at you: you're all legs and squarebody, like a piece of furniture. You don't do a good job of blending in with the verticality of this place.

I hear him snort. He looks over his shoulder; then at me. In a gesture like a watercolor, he blends off the page.

The crashing warrior is seen leaping over logs and tearing through criss-crossing branches. He dumps himself with gusto down the side of the hill with me as his aim. He is doe-colored. He is smiling. He is next to me, nudging. He leaves me for a moment and walks into the stream. He laps the film of water that barely covers the stones. He laps the stones. He stands on the other bank. His smile foams. He drips saliva and stream-water on a puddle of green liquid grass that pools under his paws on the rich, brown soil. He smiles at his own nature.