Author: Jeremy Nathan Marks

Poor me, the Israelite
-Desmond Dekker

When the trawlers made their move, shaking off dromedaries and clumps of grass, none of the old fishers noticed. In Kazakh and Uzbek cafes, places where patrons sat on stools made from salvaged steel and piping, there was no market for more scrap. Oxidized metals filled the air; clouds of invisible minerals and rust particles rode the wind into every building, clinging to structures like a cancer. It was the children who watched the trawlers transform themselves from decrepitude into drums. Concave drums, the kind with chisels; instruments played on watery islands no one would ever see. In groups, kids beat rhythms against the dusk, listening for an echo from their departed Aral Sea.

At Poopó, the artisan boats roused themselves from the cracked earth and waddled past fishery officials up from the capital. The bureaucrats did not see them. Andeans watched their former boats with amusement. If the state would not replace old tackle or divert melting glaciers back into the valley, why should they see a boat enter a home and turn into a fish? Tin fish, the produce of Potosí; loving effigies to the silversides, extinct and fossilized in Poopó’s ruins. A blind man could read that dry lakebed like braille, but some official? To the suits, fisheries were spreadsheets.

In Chad, invasive reeds swallowed the water and entangled the sky with their roots. The basin baked as turtles tried to move a dying lake on their backs. From out of this entangling weave, fishers watched their Kadeis walk the murk and gather reeds in bunches. They entered the town, built a bonfire, and burned every reed to loose the waters. Then each Kadei lifted its chosen fisher (and family) onto its shoulders, falling into line behind the turtles, walking east or west, seeking the sea.

In Salton City, residents thought the Chocolate Mountains were crossing the water, but that was a trick of the eye. It wasn’t mountains they were seeing but a great flock of giant cranes. The birds were terrifying: each stood on legs the height of a tall ship’s mast. And if that were not enough, as each clawed foot touched the drying shores of a retreating sea, the cranes turned into tarantulas. Eight metallic legs scuttling down Salton’s dusty streets, harried arachnids of the Mojave. People ran to their homes, slamming doors and shutting windows. A local eccentric walked the streets, calling out to her neighbors that they should not be afraid. “A rust colored tarantula nests above my door. She is a talisman. My companion. The raven of Poe!”

In Manhattan, a luxury liner was overdue by more than a century. And then one mid-April morning it came ashore. It was three wrecks to be exact, a trinity claiming to be a single vessel. Just then New York’s mayor received a call from a peer, her counterpart up in Halifax, a Canadian coastal town. His Honour told the leader of Gotham that a German battleship bearing the name, “Bismarck” had turned up at his wharf. But alas, New York was stealing all of the attention.

These boats -the Titanic and the Bismarck- began transforming themselves. In Halifax, the Nazi warship gave itself away, tearing pieces from its hull and handing them to tourists. Spectators, accustomed to air travel, were amazed that something so heavy might have been buoyant. Meanwhile the Titanic ordered New Yorkers to stand back as it assumed the form of a baleen whale. At the foot of Broadway it beached itself, barnacles and all.

Then it began to rain a hot rain, a monsoon whipped up by distant fires. The storm was driven by an Outback inferno, by the immolation of abused jungles. There was flame enough to float a whale high above the Freedom Tower. It moved uptown, joining the Woolworth and Flatiron buildings to watch the Chrysler genuflect at the moon.

For a time, global deserts grew moist and green before a congenital condition turned them sallow again. Many people could not believe the habitations they had built now refused them shelter; there were few arks and prophets talked about the fact that glass and aluminum was never meant to pile itself up in order to scrape the sky and babble at the sun.

A sun that drops its bulb into the water.

A fisher, pulling in his net, watched that sun swap its spot in the sky with an iron boat doubling as a cormorant. The fisher wondered if a boat taking wing might be a sign of eternal return.