Wednesday, December 22, 2010

In which the fish speaks of stones and bones and silence.

in case you were not aware, 
have no ears.

It would be foolish to expect a fish to offer access to their heads via holes,
they have smooth heads stretched with silver drums of skin and scale. Fish swim like torpedoes, along the path of no resistance.
What use have they of flapping ears, to cause drag and all manner of problem? None at all, I would think.

 Fish ears stretched like tympani on either side of the fish's long head, silver and smooth. You may have seen them, nacreous ovoids, turning apricot this way, mauve that way, depending on the tilt of the fish. There is no hole, no tunnel into the fish's head, no entrance into which the sea might pour and fill the fish with brine, flood its dreams, drown its thoughts. There is only tightly sealed silver fish skin.
Beneath the silver discs lie bones they call hearing stones. Stones to collect the sounds of the sea. The stone which orients us, much like, as Graeme Burnett points out, the Islamic qibla, the stone to which all Muslims turn and face for prayer. Our inner stones tell us which way is up, which way is down, and how far beneath the ocean you are swimming.


Pebbles in the head, pearls with which to gather music, safely inside the head of the fish.  It is said that a sea-bass has huge pebbles but humans have microscopic ones, a sac of tiny pebbles hanging inside the head.

As the years go by this fish's head strains and creaks to keep the sea out. My head works hard to close the entrance to my brain, to shut the sea out. The sea continues to poke long slithery fingers into my ears and tamper coldly with my brain, to softly clack against my ear stones, rattle them softly with a whispery rumpled sound. When I am back on land, the sea hides cunningly inside the ever-narrowing passages which lead to my ear stones. Walls of bone slowly close.

Cyprinus carpio (Common carp)

                                   (Doug Ferrell, New South Wales Department of Primary Industries.)

I try to seal my ears, to keep the sea out of my head, since having small oceans in one's ears is not a pleasant thing: it will whisper things to you as you go about your business, and distract you from the world of air. Every now and again an aquatic shift will echo largely as you reach across the table, or navigate your way across town, far from the conforting thrum of the restless ocean in which you swim.
No, I stuff my ears with waxes and plugs and wads of silicone, but the sea has become very cunning and contrives to pick them out in silent glee. I even took to using fluorescent orange wads of stuff which glowed brightly when they sank to the bottom and I was able to retrieve them, but gradually my supply was depleted. My bones continue to shift , and it becomes harder and harder to poke anything in them at all.

The stones in my head are drowning.

The sea worries the rocks underwater, tosses and pokes them as they are revealed by the great sucking of tide against sand.  rock shelf and boulder, pebble and shard: all are the palest of green, like naked things untouched by the sun.
The rocks settle in the faintest of hollows, and roll about, from one edge to another, swirling and tossing, around and around, the sound of rock against rock agreeable aquatic clunk, an undewater percussion, travelling through the pale green like an orchestra of sorts. After some time, they create a lovely round rock pool.

The sea stirs and worries the stones on their rock plates, and the hollows grow larger and deeper. the stones grow rounder and become, in time, like eggs in a basket, worn and beautiful: a nest of stone eggs. When the sea runs out these pale clusters sit in the sunlight and children play in them, lifting out the stones before parents call to them the dangers of blue-ringed octopi, the sharpness of urchin spines. Children lift out the stones, and rub them against the rockshelf, to see what happens: the rockshelf, unused to such reatment and more used to slumbering beneath a blanket of snad and the weight of the sea, is brittle and soft. The children dip their fingers in the wet powdered rock and draw with it. The sea-stones carve holes in the rocks.

My world grows quiet, the sounds in my world, it seems, have taken on the aquatic softness of sounds far beneath the surface of the sea. I peer into faces and watch them speak.  I worry that they will suddenly discern, just beneath my translucent skin,  my scales, my fins, the silver of my surface, the strangeness of my bones. 

Epinephelus lanceolatus (Giant grouper)

It is almost Christmas. 
I am standing, with all the other parents at the formal speech night, all of us singing. I can hear my own singing in my head, ringing agreeably. 
I like to sing, and I like to sing amongst other singing voices, so I sing clearly and strongly. Suddenly I worry that I am singing tooo loudly, and dart my gaze from side to side, but nobody is looking.  Emboldened, I continue. I pretend I am in a grand cathedral, until the carol finishes, and I must be seated with all the others. I watch and endless stream of royal blue blazers filing past, and listen to speeches. 
To my surprise, one of them makes me cry. A tale of kindness and generosity in an Indian orphanage run by an ex-student. Afterwards I walk through magnolias and gardenias in the warm dark air. I walk away from the sounds of father asking son to work harder, study harder, listen harder. the dark swallows me up like a tropical pond and I am glad for the way my fish ears filter sounds so well these days.

Next day at home, I sing. I sing and wonder what I sound like, since I am no longer sure.  I walk down to the sea and find it as flat s anything I have ever seen and I poke my newest earplugs far into my narrow ear canals, to cushion my ear stones, to keep out the sea.

 I swim all the way to the headland, but when I turn around to swim home I find a headwind has sprung up, and I have the devil's own time getting back.