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  • Tim Tomlinson

Wall Meditations #1


You drop down the water column surrounded in blue, you float down, weightless as a leaf in a zephyr. At the seabed fifty feet below, you plane off and kick gently toward that place where the bed drops off, a place of great traffic, great activity, the schools of wrasse and chromis and jacks following the wall’s edge like commuters approaching a city. Then: the bottom falls away and you’re out over a vast blue abyss—blue all the way down and disappearing into a blacker blue, and blue all the way out, the blue unknown out of which anything can emerge, and sometimes does. Looking out into that blue unknown, the curious mind begins to conjure, and at depth, with a finite supply of air, conjuring isn’t the most propitious space to enter. Conjuring is speculative, interior, subjective, and there’s an urgent exterior world of objective, neutral, dispassionate facts that require your immediate attention. You are in a world of sublime wonder, miraculous awe, psychedelic stimulation, you enter that world precisely for these qualities, yet you must distract yourself from them, from all numinous phenomena and instead attend to the mundane: air supply measured in pounds-per-square-inch versus bottom time and depth. And so you note, again, the lure of the blue unknown, its nearly carnal magnetism, but you are not seduced, and you turn back toward the wall. When you look back at the wall in places like Grand Cayman or Little Cayman, you’re looking at something that resembles the exterior of an apartment building: flat, sheer, layered, with floor stacked upon floor upon floor. Each floor sectioned into numerous apartments, and each apartment inhabited by the citizens of the reef: the blennies and lobsters and grunts, the crabs, the groupers, the octopus tucking into a crevice and disappearing, its color-change slamming like a door against unwanted visitors. A green moray thick as a leg pokes its face out from a ledge, breathing through its open mouth, the back-angled teeth in view, the black beads of the eyes centered inside white discs— doll’s eyes, you think, Chucky’s eyes—follow you, or you think they do. You know, of course, that it’s more than likely they don’t even see you. The moray’s vision is poor, and almost certainly unable to detect color, at least the way you understand color. How do you understand color? The way Mark Rothko used color. The way Klee, and Matisse, and Basquiat used color, but now you’re going interior, and it’s a fact that’s following you, if it’s following you, and there are other facts, equally important, just ahead. Briefly, you’re in shadow—a greenback turtle passes overhead, an escort of cleaner fish at its sides, encrustaceans of barnacles on its shell edge. Epibiosis, you recall, is a form of symbiosis involving the colonization of one organism, the host, by another. The barnacle benefits—fed by the nutrients in the water flowing over it. The turtle does not, but the barnacles’ negative effects are slow to manifest, like cigarettes to a smoker. But that’s enough about barnacles and relationships. You have color to think about, and apartment buildings, and moray eels, and how far you’re below the surface. How far are you beneath the surface? There it is, gleaming, a pale blue, glints of sunlight bent and refracted as if hitting glass. And there, between you, at 70’, and the pale surface, a cloud of jacks appears. Silver, you think, is a verb, especially in the hands (the fins?) of a barracuda: he, she, they silver through the water. Have you ever seen a barracuda strike? You have, but when you tell your guide later that day, she says, if you saw it strike, it wasn’t a barracuda. To the human eye, she says, the predation of a barracuda is like the sound of a dog whistle: undetectable.


Tim Tomlinson is the author of the chapbook Yolanda: An Oral History in Verse, the poetry collection, Requiem for the Tree Fort I Set on Fire, and the short story collection, This Is Not Happening to You. Recent work appears in the Big City Lit, Columbia Journal, Litro, and the anthology, Surviving Suicide: A Collection of Poems that May Save a Life. He is the director of New York Writers Workshop, and co-author of its popular text, The Portable MFA in Creative Writing. He teaches writing in NYU’s Global Liberal Studies. Visit Tim at

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