Towards the Shoreline

Susan Briante

As early as the 10th century, astute observers noted sunken trees fringed British coastlines, bare branches nearly tickling the water's surface at low tide mistaken for misplaced reflections or the tentative fingers of water nymphs beckoning from below the waves.

These sunken forests were thought

to be evidence of Noah's flood until the beginning of the 20th century, when the geologist Clement Reid proposed that "nothing but a change in sea level" accounted for the trees stretching from the high water mark "to the level of the lowest spring tide."1

Plato first told the story of Atlantis, a city founded by a race of half-gods, half-mortals. Paradise. Until the inhabitants became greedy and bellicose. And the gods sent fire and earthquake to sink Atlantis into the sea.

When I became pregnant I watched birth videos because I had never witnessed an actual birth. Sitting on the floor of a yoga studio, I was startled by the raw screams, moans that uncoiled into song, flood of blood and water

—how could any one hold so much?

Plato compares the whole idea of creation to mother calling it "receptacle" or "reservoir," describing it as "shapeless, viewless, all receiving."2

Read back as far as Hippocrates and you find that women have been watery.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts a rise in sea levels of 10?32 inches by the end of this century.

Water spilled on the ground cannot be gathered up.

A beautiful young woman stands naked at the shoreline in one birthing video, while the Black Sea laps at her thighs. Her equally beautiful friends hold her up like a crucified Jesus as she sways through her contractions.

In another, a woman recalls how she felt "all the power of the universe" spiraling through her during her son's birth. The film captures her in a mid?delivery orgasm.

I practiced spiraling and squatting and breathing through a variety of sensations.

But when my daughter dropped down into the birth canal, a clawing pain gripped my back and midsection for 15 hours. No chance to spiral or sing or breathe.
When my water broke

my husband said he looked into my eyes and could not find me.

I like to tell people: I move to the desert and decide to write about water—which is not exactly true. Water

shifts, sloshes, spills, betrays form

—and what the water leaves behind?

a standard nail, a metal plaque, a painted sign.

On Wall Street the "high?water mark" refers to the highest peak in value reached by an investment fund/account, often used in the context of fund manager compensation, which is performance based.3

Who tides? Who ebbs or floods?

During the last four periods of the Paleozoic, Arizona was ocean. Only the northeastern corner of the state remained above sea level.

In 2014 Arizona ranked ninth in the country for percentages of homes underwater.4

The birth video explained: "The quality of life will be defined by the quality of the birth."5

The birth video explained that we could "move beyond the imprint of fear and suffering."

My husband and I studied many natural birthing techniques, but by the time we thought to sign up for a childcare class, we were too late. We were never shown the proper way to diaper or perform infant CPR. When we brought our daughter home to an empty house, she cried all the time. She lost weight.

In the 1970s the median salary was $50,622 compared to $48,262 in 2010 (adjusted) while disposable income or anything not being spent on housing, healthcare, childcare, or college in the 1970s was $32,554 compared to $14,658 in 2010.

Every night I lie awake in bed listening to the sound of prerecorded waves playing on repeat from an iPod in my daughter's room.

Often when I sleep, I dream about money.

"The question whether to have children is of course prudential in part; it's concerned about what is or is not in one's own interests," explains one writer in The New York Times.6

"But it is also an ethical question, for it is about whether to bring a person (in some cases more than one person) into existence—and that person cannot, by the very nature of the situation, give consent to being brought into existence."

Nearly every mother I know has trouble sleeping.

In the year of our drought, in the year of our marriage, all of our favorite pictures were taken under cloud.

Turning his attention to a substance known as moorlog, dredged up from the bed of the North Sea in the early 20th century, geologist Clement Reid identified the compacted remains of bear, wolf, hyena, bison, mammoth, beaver, walrus, elk and deer, as well as shells, wood, and lumps of peat. He concluded: "Noah's woods once extended far beyond the shore, occupying what is now the southern half of the North Sea, and stretching across to Holland and Denmark."

Scholars often insist that we're not meant to take accounts of Atlantis literally. "The idea is that we should use the story to examine our ideas of government and power," writes philosopher Julia Annas.7

"We have missed the point if instead of thinking about these issues we go off exploring the sea bed."

The term "utopia" (from the Greek for "no-place/land") was coined by Sir Thomas More in his 16th-century work of fiction, inspired by Plato's Atlantis and travelers' accounts of the Americas.

On More's island of Utopia, private property doesn't exist. Houses (never locked) are rotated among the citizens every ten years. Everyone works the fire training for at least two years in the countryside. People only work six hours a day

—and every household has two slaves.

Who tides? Who ebbs or floods?

I look to a reflection-heavy sea and can find no sky to correspond with the one that hangs above me.

I look to the mirror of my daughter.

A real drowning looks nothing like they do on TV. The victim usually can't scream, can't wave their arms, often can't lift their mouth above the water line

as the body sheds its technology.

Given that humankind is the most destructive species on the planet, philosopher David Benatar writes, "a life filled with good and containing only the most minute quantity of bad—a life adulterated only by the pain of a single pin?prick—is worse than no life at all."8

I want to teach my daughter how to swim, how to live off the grid, how to grow her own food and make her own art

but what I need to teach her how is to die or how

to live as if she is already dead.

The woman whose house and husband and child were washed away by Hurricane Sandy explained: "You have to live all over again, in a different way."9

USGS high water survey markers, driven into utility poles and tied with orange ribbons, flutter like a monk's robe.

It was raining when Mary Shelley began Frankenstein.

Tell me a story about water.

So we move to the desert for our jobs, no one should feel sorry for us.

We rent a three-bedroom house in hopes of putting 10 percent down on a 30-year mortgage if we can find something before interest rates rise.

"We are moving into a new era when science, technology, and spirituality are converging." In the video, children, toddlers—even infants—swim instinctively in gentle tides. "We can regain our authentic power," the video promises, "and clear the pain of our ancestors from our system."

Underwater archeologists discover the ancient city, Heracleion, swallowed by the Mediterranean Sea and buried in sand and mud for more than 1,200 years.10

They hoist bins of gold coins, Egyptian tablets, statues of gods, and anchors from the sea floor. Scientists theorize an earthquake may have caused the city with its large buildings to sink into saturated clay and sandy soil.

But it is unclear if it was a quick disaster or a gradual abandonment if people

fled or simply turned away.

If I could have brought my daughter into "a world of love and safety" just by birthing her in water, or if her hospital birth could be the limit of all the damage that will be done to her, if I could buy the right cups for her to drink from to limit her exposure to BPA, if we could figure out whether to put our money in pensions or mutual funds or gold bars or a house, if buying local produce could end the collapse of bee colonies, if bicycling to work could short circuit the oil economy, if signing this petition could stop police brutality, if laying my body in the street or on the steps of the capitol could end police brutality against black bodies, if withholding our taxes could stop the wars, if withholding our taxes could undo genocide, if we could short circuit the drone, if we could cut ourselves away, if we could either come clean or choke on our complicity.

I feel like those Greek women condemned to spend eternity in the underworld gathering water in a leaky jug or sieve.

We look out the window. Do

you see those clouds?

Yes, my daughter says, but it's not raining.

In another variation of an Atlantis myth, in the linear notes to their 1997 album The Quest, the African?American Detroit?based techno duo, Drexciya, imagined a race of aquahumans born from the fetuses of pregnant slave women tossed into the Atlantic during the Middle Passage:

"Are Drexciyans water breathing, aquatically mutated descendants of those unfortunate victims of human greed? Have they been spared by God to teach us or terrorize us? Did they migrate from the Gulf of Mexico to the Mississippi river basin and on to the great lakes of Michigan?

Do they walk among us? Are they more advanced than us and why do they make their strange music?" 11

No bins of gold coins or statues dredged up from an ocean bed, but overboard, over a wall of sea,

far from shore, music rises from waterlogged lungs

In the womb, a fetus' lungs fill with fluid and cannot supply oxygen to her body. Her mother provides oxygen via the umbilical cord.

An infant's first breath usually happens at birth when she begins to cry.

first the sirens then the water then the water then the water that falls the bridge that falls the

walls that falls the house that floods the street then the water then the water then the water

And after the flood, it's almost cliché to mention how fertile the soil. To imagine

utopia is to admire the flower and remember that spring is a season of hunger

is to make a wish and break the bone.

branch, blood, moorlog, estuaries, I looked into your reflection thick with leaves, broken surface, my stuttering reflection

be branch felt gut, bring branch to surface, thirst, against the constraint of mud, sound it out, be knock-these-things-down, be mother-fucking mutable, roil, foam, gather whatever you need, what stands in your way sweep aside, calculate by cubic feet, the pressure, power, learn this here in the desert, cover the surface with your surface, to hell with site specificity, seize every reflection, shatter, startle, reroute, rise, sing, tide

dear drowned, dear drowning, dear daughter

when the wood runs out, the bears move down the mountain when you
give a mouse a muffin, he demands so much more all of the children's
books teach economics

we put our spare change in a soup jar coins
from various currencies
make a sound like bell or a soft crash

To be the body sinking under the water's surface when
everything becomes luminous 
to understand your body because of water

to waver like a penny under water
can perhaps also teach us about an economy What can

we learn from this moment?

Not the drowning but what the drowned see.

Reid Clement, Submerged Forests (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1913). 
        2Anne Carson, Men in the Off Hours (New York: Knopf, 2000), 132-133.
        3“High-Water Mark Definition | Investopedia,” Investopedia (20 Nov. 2003).
        4Mike Sunnucks, “18 Percent of Arizona Homes Still Seriously Underwater,” PhoenixBusiness Journal, 23 Oct. 2014.
        5Birth As We Know It. Dir. Elena Tonetti-Vladimirova. The Sentient Circle, 2006. YouTube. Birth Into Being, 2 June 2013. Web. 29 March 2015.
        6Christine Overall, “Think Before You Breed,” The New York Times, 17 June 2012. 
        7Julia Annas, Plato:A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2003), 64.
        8David Benatar, BetterNevertoHaveBeen: The Harm of Coming into Existence (Oxford: Clarendon, 2006), 48.
        9Kia Gregory, “After Tragic Loss During Hurricane Sandy, a Woman Chooses Not to Return,” The New York Times, 10 Oct. 2013. 
        10 Richard Gray, “Lost City of Heracleion Gives up Its Secrets,” The Telegraph, 28 Apr. 2013.
        11“Drexciya—The Quest,” Discogs. Web. 24 April 2015.