Manatee

Image taken by my wife

A part of me wanted to celebrate my son's third birthday in an ocean park just because I wanted to go there. Call it one of those unfounded obsessions. Consider this--and my love for beaches--a longing my inner Pisces has for the past few decades of living in landlocked provinces, feeling deprived and fed up with resorts teeming with machine-generated waves and kitschy landscapes.

Which is why I find John Witte's Manatee riveting, with its dream-like sequence. The poem draws stillness from its aquatic environment: the hushed, ambient, even meditative Oceanarium of sorts.

The poem starts in a delirious haze: the dreary "red eye", the final words, the You gonged in morphine. There's a touch of helplessness, even grief, in this line: "diaper gonged on morphine drifting / up out of sleep."

The graceful line cut happened at "drifting", transporting us in front of the cloudy glass, to the approaching manatee. Then there's the unsuspecting granddaughters, which faces I imagine to have this blue and iridescent glow against the pitch-black viewing chamber, "gazing openmouthed having forgotten about you entirely," a strong statement against memory as a construct, perspective. A manatee is just an exciting new creature to them; to the persona, it's an enlightened, transcendent manatee--a fictional layer, a folklore of sort. (In Palahniuk's Fight club: the "power animal.")

Through the course of the poem, the You becomes reanimated and transfigured in the same way memories do. It's a bit of myth-making, really: attitudes and perspectives hardened into beliefs--beliefs reshaped until the make-believe looms up, become embodied by mementos, cursed objects, or bad weather in fair days.