Yesterday Newark Bay was a pale empyreal mirror. It lay still and soft and suspended as I have ever seen a living thing lay. I know it to be alive because I have seen it roil and swarm with personality, but I must believe that yesterday all its creatures held their peace down below. Not that they were sleeping, but that they clasped their fins and claws together in a prayer of dignity. Prostrate lay the water bears, their little bodies transported into the Sixth Dwelling Places. Echinoderms stood silent in a treasure chamber more divine than the Duchess of Alba’s. The benthos held her breath and squeezed her eyes shut for minutes upon minutes of wordless, imageless meditation. From the bulkhead I could tell that it was so because the bay was detached, somber in perfect monastic sublimation. Of course I could not see this with the eyes of my body, but my soul sensed the serrated edges of that invisible cloud, enveloping the bay; amen, it was habited with the Cloud of Unknowing.
My clunky attempts at piercing the surface with my eyes were fruitless; no created thing could enter it. It had discarded all affection for creatures. It kept silence to listen for that Word. Both with great strain and without any effort at all, it became a nub of supple limestone in the hand, ready. It simply was.
The soul of my soul rose up against this holy bay. My own fetid heart jealoused over such a show. Why should this estuary have the grace to obey, the grace I’ve sweat for? Has my tithe of mint and anise and cumin bought me nothing? I’ve sworn by the gold of the temple and by the gift on the altar; I’ve been given nothing. The shadowy little curls on the edges of my soul squirmed in misery. To comfort myself, I laid an affusion of abuse on that bay. I fed it my poison, spoonfuls at a time, slipping down the throat. I rehearsed my disciplines, my almsgiving, my prayers. My Sarum ire chanted me. I lifted my hands in condemnation. But the bay did not stir; it cared for neither criticism nor praise. When I saw that my efforts were again fruitless, I imagined my sins returning to destroy me. I held my breath and hoped for a quick death. But my rancor did not ricochet back towards me—it did not even glance off the surface and clatter down the sides: it sank down into the bay; that body absorbed my virulence and within, in its very deepest heart, translated it to more Good.
There were tears, but to write about them would be too much. Other, more important things happened that turned over the landscape: the fumi-e forbore to trample me. I became unrecognizable to myself. There was death, and death, and death again. The shackles which had heretofore clasped me tight loosened, loosened, and fell away. The eyes of my body were blind as ever but the ground of my soul, furrowed and watered after fifty years, could see everything as it entered the Cloud.
Laura Arciniega received a Certificate of Merit in the 2017 Deep River Books’ Writers Contest for her unpublished manuscript Silent Simon. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Tweet Literature, Mad Scientist Journal, and Bombay Gin.