This is a short piece of writing that is kind of poetic, kind of prose, that re-tells the story of the Gorgon sisters in a collage of ancient and contemporary references. I wrote it while painting a series of watercolours illustrating scenes from the narrative, when pieces of text floated into my head and stuck together to form something quite intuitive. I tried not to overwork it, keeping its floaty, liminal energy. It’s a real experiment for me, and after having the ‘Sea Creatures’ book printed in December, brings an exciting depth to the lockdown watercolour project and opens new possibilities for the shapes these creatures could form.
Sing, goddess, sing! Sing of beauty and sing of rage. Sing of breathless loss, and truth.
Here is something true.
A dark act breeds dark creatures.
A dark act clouds the sky and churns the sea. It was a dark act that set us adrift on a storm-tossed ocean.
We plot a black course through stars, and make a choice not to drown.
One is strong.
One is fast.
One is a vessel, built to last.
Exiled as we are, we still have our visitors. Princes come from all over the known world, tired of their usual hunting trophies and worn-out songs of triumph.
Where are all the mountain lions that used to entertain them? All the stags, wild boars, and bears? Oh yes, their heads are already decorating their fathers’ palace walls. But there is a little space left, and a son who wants his own story sung by bards. So now they come for us.
But we have quite the collection ourselves.
Sand, sweat, sun and skin. Washed off with salt water as we swim. Tiny pieces of pebbles, bones and broken shells, collected underneath our fingernails.
The empty shell holds the space of a soul departed to immortal plains.
It holds pink whorls and furtive curves, untouched by anything more sinister than those small spiky creatures that crawl and hide.
Born from the deep, thrown up by the swell, bursting with salted uterine waters and secrets. Broken open, the shell is empty, the creature that once lived there has fled. Or perhaps not fled, perhaps grown. Perhaps even been released.
Here we are, the shell broken, the pearl stolen, the flesh consumed.
If you are afraid to see us, then put us to your ear and hear us.
We swim, play, and laugh, walk and sunbathe like seals. We collect baskets full of brittle stars. We are not so dead that we have forgotten how to laugh; we still feel the warmth of the sun, despite our hands of bronze and eyes of poison.
The beach is busier than we are. The sand shifts, stones are smoothed, bones are bleached, the sunlight dances on the surface of the waves. Created and destroyed with the rhythm of the tides, our shore changes every day, and so do we.
Listening to the calls of the oystercatchers and gulls, we lie back and watch the slow movement of the planets. How can we be exiled when we still have the sea and the sky?
One stands on the beach as on the edge of the known world. But we know the sea and its depths. We were born there.
They will leave only a hard shell behind. We will leave more.
A secret and small luminescence. A soft and toxic scent.
Can monsters speak? Or can they be heard?
Can you hear this? The roar of the deep, raising its voice to the surface.
A noise like the waves of the sounding sea which thunder along the length of the shore when the deep lifts up its voice.
The sound of rage rising.
The sea that crumbles cliffs and swallows ships. That kind of rage.
If it wasn’t him, it would have been another. With the help of the deathless ones, it could have been anyone. She was called protector, but it was she who had to be protected. We are only three, and they are many.
They don’t care. They just don’t care.
The wine-dark sea laps like a hungry tongue at the swollen, bloody flesh. Split me open, she screams with her skin. Rip me apart, get these horrible, cursed children out of me, throw them onto the land still slick with their mother’s gore, to hunt and terrorise men far away from here.
Nothing ripped from a headless corpse can come to any good. But there is life in there still and it must be gotten out.
A god’s embrace is never fruitless.
Leave behind the blood, and the body. It is only a heavy, useless shell.
Sing, goddess, of mute beauty and impotent fury. Sing of rumbles from the deep and ancient world, and how they shiver and shudder through time, so we can feel them still.
Leave behind the body, abandon the blood.
Let her tell you about the origins of coral …
Her deadness touches the riverbed where he lays her down, petrifying soft weeds and leaves into skeletal ghosts. Flakes of dried blood mix with the fresh water. The specks will be carried towards the sea on the pulsing current. Little pieces of her will try to find their way back to her sisters.
All things begin and end with the sea.
Like the sea, she has the gift of permanence. Persistence. She may not create life, but she preserves its traces. Permanence against their will, whether or not they want it. Whether or not she wants to give it.
She knows how brittle the stars can be.
One is strong,
One is fast,
One is future, present, past.
Leave the body, abandon the blood. The shell is broken, dark creatures are stirring. The deep lifts up its voice and screams. Swallow ships, crumble cliffs.
We plot a black course through stars.
Sing, goddess. Sing of this.