Dock Water Eyes
Still, I would sooner paint people’s eyes than cathedrals, for there is something in the eyes that is lacking in a cathedral—however solemn and impressive it may be.
We are surrounded by poetry on all sides, but putting it on paper is, alas, not as readily done as looking at it.
—Vincent van Gogh
In Hannah’s poem, my eyes are green. Off the screen, though, the corners of those (blue) eyes fold into a smile. It’s not the first time my eyes have been green. There was a love poem, or maybe two of them, in high school. And then there was that evening at the poke shop with my then-boyfriend during the spring of my junior year in college. We sat at the bar, and my legs—a little short for the stool—swung crossed at the ankles as we watched fish sheave knives and talked about nothing, then eyes.
He leaned in, curved over the hum of a post-grand-opening clamor, and called mine green. It was dark in the shop, I’ll give him that, but we’d been seeing each other for over a month (had he seen me?), and even though later that night we’d hold hands under the moon, tripping over a chilly curb, both knowing that we weren’t meant to be, it would be nice to know the color of each other’s eyes in the meantime. So when I laughed, soy sauce searing my nose, he rushed to justify his mistake. Apologetics instead of apology—still, I was happy with what he said, which was, maybe:
“I mean, they’re not really a true blue; they don’t look like it, at least. They have a few other colors in them, like...like dock water.” Immediately he rowed back, leaning away from the space those words had entered. Yet as apologetics turned to true apology, I bit the insides of my lower lip to tame a grin. It was perfect; that description was perfect.
Usually, blue eyes are compared to oceans, bodies of water that many people are terrified to swim in. They’re vast and deep and subject to storm and shine alike. No one wades into blue eyes: they either skim the surface or drown. Ocean eyes, as such, have a few too many songs written about them, much like green eyes have a few too many poems. I never liked the thought of having intimidating eyes, ones that were worth more seen than seeing, for I feel most seen when people see, instead, my gift for seeing.
Do you also get stopped on the street by people who can see your future? It’s not always the street. Once in a Goodwill, between the men’s shirts and women’s blouses—both with that same crumpled smell—I was approached by an old woman, her grey hair squirreling witch-like in a stale draft. She wanted to tell me that she could see my soul. With an intensity that made me believe it, she delivered a hushed prophecy: when she peered into my almond-cut windows, blue stained with gold and green, she saw an artist looking back. According to the witch-prophet in the Goodwill, I have a kind gaze, one that renders what it touches beautiful. Like superhero laser eyes, but with art.
I believe, in that way, that we all, on some level, are superheroes. Or witches, or prophets, or whatever. That is to say, I believe in magic. That there’s magic in the world. That we, as experiencers and as meaning makers, are magic.
Several years of glassy compliments later, a chef in Mexico comes out of his Baja-winter kitchen to take in my face intently. This one’s a poet, he says. It’s in the eyes. A coastal storm rumbles outside as pelicans flee the surf and flying fish duck beneath frothed seas. The whole world is iridescence, salt, spray. In the realm of magical realism, after weeks of clambering through sandstone canyons with their secrets pooled, frog-lined, at the base of thin waterfalls, I believe him. My eyes are not oceans; they are those thin shallows that ripple the orange gully walls double and welcome the bare feet that splash through them, the drops of sweat-salt which announce all distance and chill collapsed.
Reverence is not all the deep interiority of cathedrals. Reverence, sometimes, can be felt on the skin. So when that college boyfriend chooses to compare my eyes to, of all bodies of water, dock water, the description is perfect. Ocean-blue and sky-blue are so broad, so varied, that they’re abstract colors, but dock water...dock water has all the variance without any of the distance. Dock water is inviting and ruffled with murky memory. Dock water is place-bound and present. Dock water is the safe unknown.
Hannah (the same friend who loves me dearly enough to include me in a poem, but not enough to resist the temptation of calling my eyes green) once commented on an essay of mine. She said, in one text among a string of others: “You transfigure everything into beauty.” But it’s already beautiful. We are surrounded by poetry on all sides, and I am a poet only for the way it catches in my eyes.
Dock Water Eyes
Eyes as oceans, eyes as depths, demands
a certain chill—the indifference which glazes,
casually, a Pacific whitecap in May.
You never saw that chill in me.
“Dock water,” you said.
To you, my eyes, not quite grey
nor green nor blue were
the most intimate sort
of light-shattering shallows.
You took it back. Murky,
feculent, the play-place of childhood.
Seeing slivers on sunburnt shins,
shame laps description.
You withdrew—a buoy bobbing on a tide
—but I remained tied taunt in Najas minor.
Though you’d rather be drowned, still you taught me
that beauty does not have to be deep to matter. Magic
floods these shallow waters, too.