Cluster: Kayser & Anselmi
Talley V. Kayser / Daniel Anselmi
As a Kayaking Guide, I Always Describe Oyster Sex with Particular Care.
Shem Creek, South Carolina
Some fathers object to the mention of semen
in front of their offspring. Some mothers remark
that “the girl oysters have life much harder,” and we
who have vulvas nod sagely. A bro in pink glasses
once boomed, “it’s a clusterfuck, dude!” and I used
that same joke for all subsequent bros. But what blows
people’s minds isn’t how shellfish sex slicks the creeks
in late spring, or the wild odds that each thrashing larva
must face, or that some spawning females release fifty
million or more eggs per day––but the way oysters
change. Protandry, simultaneous hermaphrodites…
I explain. Middle schoolers who giggled at sperm
all clam up and avoid that one kid with their eyes––
or a red-cheeked man quickly intones, “God be praised!
His creation is wondrous!”––or maybe a grayed
pair of women share wide grins and laugh. Oh, so strange,
what goes on in this water we cross. Boys grow up
to be girls. Girls can also be boys. Never mind
that for seventeen million years oysters have thrived
through such changes––it’s slippery space. So I say:
“what amazing resilience.” I say, “great success
under pressure.” I marvel at oysters, who bear
hurricanes on rough shoulders, who shelter the weak
of the sea, whose strong stomachs cleanse impurities
from each last drop of marsh, every day. I call out
to my clients, and raise high my water. Together,
we toast Crassostrea virginica’s honor:
all praise to the oyster, robust clusterfucker,
both mother and father, essential.
Colonial Lake, June.
Their art is called cut-water.
Wide-flung and tapered wings lilt in iambic rhythms.
Black and white, with surety and speed,
the wild birds trace the edges of the lake
as if they’re caged, trailing
From low, unbroken flight
their sleek necks stretch. Red, blade-thin beaks
reach, slice their own reflections––each
bird carves its one white line, a single wake:
a lean, bright trail
a clean and perfect shape
that flares against the surface
and then fades.
such beauty! in
dipping as if to drink
(but the birds are not drinking)
the shallows tremble with ripples/and the wet light
shudders. half-sunk cups gape
open wonder. crumpled
wrappers hum, and lift
their crumbling offerings
in silver fists
(but the birds are not gods)
what then/of this/jittered rhythm/
what then/shall we make of this/strange flight
(watch the shallows)
and what shall we watch in the shallows
(the fishes that tilt their flat eyes toward the light
and seek it, as if summoned)
The art is called cut-water. It recurs.
Again the skimmers pass––again, they bend
their necks to long, low kisses. Ripples sing.
Watch closely the wild silence of their wings.
Watch close the wounds they knife into the water.
This is no quiet art.
This art is hunger.
after Chris Jordan
it is unlike me
to look at a bird
and think of myself
and not the bird.
but still I wonder
which bright bits
through my even
most silversoft lining. which
is the biggest bolus
drawing the eye
my little brother
is a doctor. my little
brothers cuts people open my
little brother cut open a person
cadaver corpse––for a
full year he teased it
into pieces. he says
they start you with
the back. the face
comes last. the face
is difficult. one morning
he gently lifted
a bright bow tie from
the neck of his
corpse. he walked the scrap
of plastic to the trash
then turned to his lab mates.
we’re not doing that
again. he says
they covered her
hands to hide the color
on her nails, which was like
the photographer’s hands
(bare) teased from the
dark bile of the bird that stuff
which cut and
crowded but never
fed and therefore
killed. the photographer scrubbed
each bright piece clean
and lay it back against
the opened body
riddle: my father
is like unto or not
much of my mother
has been removed
but lucky she
remitted. I made
the mistake of googling
tumor. I am no doctor but
they don’t appear to come
in a wide variety
of colors. my mother
is farm-raised and
well bred. also uneasy
and diseased. my mother
fed on food fresh
from the garden
which they sprayed
same as the cotton.
the birds swallowed
the bright bits on the sand, as they
have always done.
as they have always done,
they offered from the depths
of their bodies those same bits
and fed their children, so tell me
what I’ve swallowed. tell me
how it’s killing me. given the chance
I would prefer to slough in the dirt
without particular color––no pink
clinging to my nails, no strange red
bulge collecting in my breast, no evidence
of which stray memory choked
my growth or stunted flight,
which sadness I was fed
and ate. I would prefer
earth swarm what’s left:
an opened harmlessness,
soft, gnawable flesh
and clean, bright bits of bone.
Talley V. Kayser has been an outdoor professional since 2007, and has worked as a naturalist and wilderness guide throughout the United States. During the academic year, she directs The Pennsylvania State University’s Adventure Literature Series, teaching courses that combine literary study and outdoor exploration.
Daniel Anselmi explores the use of paper as a dialogue between painting and collage. He creates painted paper as one would handle a brush to elicit brushstrokes on surfaces, creating opportunities to express color, line, and form. All works are Untitled, removing references that interfere with or assist in viewer perception.