Treatise on Travel
Crystalline fins litter the water near the pier
breaking the surface in mercurial schools
of shimmer on blue, as if the entire shoreline
has been overrun by alien toy skiffs.
I’ve never seen jellyfish like this,
tagged on the Coast Guard poster
as Velella velella—By-the-Wind Sailor,
born in left and right-sailing forms,
mirror images gusted around the ocean
in opposite directions. Drifting is the most
economical way for jellies to travel. Not like
the homesick shipping clerk who sent himself
to Texas in a cargo crate thinking it would be
cheaper than a plane seat. On a Florida flight
years ago, my parents dressed my sister
in baby clothes to skirt purchasing her ticket.
As soon as we taxied from the terminal,
my sister told anyone who would listen
that she was four years old. I want my own seat,
she said, and my own meal. Every story
refuses to be economical, is too heavy to carry
gracefully, limps its way off the luggage belt
to the parking lot. When they interviewed
the man in the crate, who stayed folded and quiet
for fifteen hours, he said, “I’m sitting there
thinking any minute they’ll notice
there’s somebody sitting inside this crate.
No one did.” Not like the guy who went over
Niagara Falls without anything but his clothes.
Imagine all the stunned honeymooners
looking over the railing as the smiling man
glides headfirst over that 180-foot cascade,
then pulls himself up from the water.
There are places too transcendent to inhabit.
There are more graceful ways to travel home.
When I drive cross-country, I do not
try anything miraculous. I follow
the triptych, trace pink lines with my fingers,
listen to the radio announcer advertise
a litany of goods in places too rural
for stores or papers: the carburetor
from an ’89 Buick Skylark, gently worn
size 6 women’s Keds. She reads the numbers
to call. We are all swept everywhere.
Sometimes we pulse. Sometimes we drift.
Despite a simple design, jellies
are well-equipped to capture food,
reproduce, and defend themselves.
Note: The phrase, “I’m sitting there thinking any minute somebody will notice that there’s somebody sitting inside this crate. No one did,” was said by Charles D. McKinley, a shipping clerk who had himself shipped from New York to Dallas in an airline cargo crate (as reported by The Associated Press on September 10, 2003).