We decide to head down to the basement, since we don't want to bother my brother and his homework. He's got his headphones on, and there's no way he can hear us, but I agree and go downstairs anyway. We pass the guest room and settle down on the couch. My dog lies down by my feet, chewing on a rawhide bone. I pull up the poem on my computer and we sit in silence as she reads it.
I'm just playing on my phone while I wait for my mom to finish. Not two seconds after she's started reading, she asks, "What does 'meer' mean?"
"Um..." I can't remember. "I don't know. You should look it up."
"Aren't you supposed to know what all of the words mean?" she says.
I wave my hand at her. "Yeah, but that's what the Internet is great for."
After another few moments of silence, my mom says, "What's 'lann'?"
Leaning over, I point out how in the previous stanza, it says "eye" and then the next bit says "-lann", which forms the word "island". And I sincerely hope I'm right about that. There are a bunch of words that are spelled weirdly in the poem, and I've been guessing what they meant. Then I tell her that she needs to wait for the actual interview to start before she asks any more questions. Mom clamps her mouth shut jokingly and finishes the poem in silence, mouthing the words as she reads them.
"Okay, ready to start?" I ask.
"Yeah." My mom pauses. "Can I ask you questions now?"
"Hold on a sec." I press record on my phone.
"Okay," I say. "So...now that you read it..." I'm trying to properly format the question in my head before I say it. "What...like, what do you think it represents?"
She takes a deep breath. And says nothing. After a few seconds of silence and me staring at her and glancing at my phone to make sure it's recording, she says, "I'm thinking," in an undertone.
"I know," I reply quickly. We sit a moment longer. I listen to the dog chewing on her bone, noting that it is very loud and hoping the recording won't pick it up so I can hear us talking clearly.
My mom takes another deep breath and starts talking. "Well, I think it represents the passage of time...and...kind of the...the thought of that, you know, the oceans were here long before we were here, they're gonna be here longer than we'll ever be here." My dog climbs up onto the couch next to me and shoves her face into my leg. "I think he's sort of overwhelmed by the depth and the beauty and the vastness of the sea."
I nod approvingly, petting the dog. "Wow. Yeah, I would agree. The other thing- the thing that I thought it meant was respect nature, you know?"
"Mmm, mmhmm." Mom hums in agreement. She scrolls through the poem again, glancing over it.
"Cos it's so...big..." I trail off, losing the thread of what I was thinking. I start trying to remember the other questions I wanted to ask.
After a moment of looking the poem over again, my mom says, "It was interesting, the part about like we're sort of staining it with our presence." She's started using her hands to describe what she's saying.
"Uhuh." I keep petting the dog. I definitely agree with the thought that we, as humans, are staining the earth with our overuse of resources and taking far more than we give. The earth is not meant to be stripped bare of everything is has to offer, because although these things do regenerate over time, what people take is far more than the earth could provide in many lifetimes.
"And ten thousand years later there are trees...this is interesting, now that I'm reading it again, I'm like, first I was like 'blech, I don't like this'." I laugh softly at her reaction. "Cos I don't like not being able to understand something, but whatever."
There is another long pause as the dog jumps back down from the couch, retrieves her bone, and starts gnawing on it again at my feet. We sit for another short while. I'm thinking about how the poem does seem somewhat hopeful, how there are trees again at the end. And humans are the dark religion, staining nature's purity. Then my mom says, "Well, and he's sort of saying here like..." Mom murmurs a few of the lines. "'until there is here what should not be here on the water...' Yeah, I think you're right, where it's like we're...humans are encroaching on nature, and we should...not."
"We're bad. Ocean good, ocean life good, people bad," Mom says, and I start laughing.
"That's very deep, thank you." I smile. Okay, next question. "And what do you like...and dislike about it?"
She readjusts the computer on her lap and answers very quickly. "I like the description of...um..." She finds the line she's looking for in the poem. "I like glistening sunlight and listening rain, that's stellar, cos it rhymes." Then she stage-whispers, "It's poetry, it's supposed to rhyme." And immediately after, adds, "I'm kidding, I know it's not supposed to rhyme. But I do like that phrase. That phrase is spot on." She gives a thumbs-up and continues. "And I do like all the colors. Black stone, green water, light and light green...that helps me...ozure, indigo...Is that supposed to be azure?"
"Yeah, I think so? I looked it up, and there's no definition for it, so I just assumed so," I respond.
"Okay. And I really like white streets, that helps to picture it." She pauses to think about what she didn't like. "I don't like the end, with the stain of milk and the great spider. Like it makes me think, you know, it's gonna sour and last a long time. I didn't think of it as, like, white, I thought of it as...yuck."
I laugh again, but also say, "That's really interesting, that you see it that way." I see it more as wiping the slate clean, starting from blank white so that the people can build whatever kind of world they want. To me, nothingness isn't inherently good or bad, and neither is growth. If anything, growing and changing are inherently good, because if nothing grows then everything will stagnate and nothing will happen. I see more of the change that comes after the stain of milk, while my mom sees the stain itself as an object of malicious intent.
"You can quote me on that," she says, laughing with me.
"I have to!" We both laugh.
Trying to stay focused, Mom starts again. "Well, you know it's funny, the image of a spider is kind of these eight legs, you know, spreading, and it kind of feels like, that kind of big black scary with the legs, you know, um..." My hand slips and I drop the still-recording phone, so as she keeps talking I pick it up and carefully lean it on a pillow so it can still hear us. "It's sort of a scary image to me, of a great spider spreading itself, almost like a great evil spreading itself about." Then, after thinking a moment, she continues. "Well, if you think about it, spiders are good, but I don't think that's where he's going with that."
"Spiders are gross," I add.
"But spiders are good, they eat the insects, that's what Charlotte's Web taught me anyway." A pause. "They kind of are gross."
"We got way sidetracked. Okay...pfff." I wiggle my tongue around and get the hair out of my mouth. "Dog hair in my mouth. Okay. Okay...Do you think it has, like, religious undertones at all, or not? Cos there's like a little mention there of kabala, 'the forbidden religion', and it's worship dark green water scallops jewels and...fish."
"Hmmm..." Mom hums again. "And blessing... well let's think about this, then."
Oh, good, I'm thought-provoking. I readjust myself on the couch as I wait for the response.
"Well...you could say, you know, people associate fish with Jesus, if you want to go there," she says at last.
Thinking about that, I reply, "But isn't Kabbalah...Judaism?"
"Right, it's a spiritual Judaism. It's very much there is a God of some ilk and it's...spiritual." She waves her hands in the air to demonstrate spirituality and keeps talking with her hands. "Yeah, it almost seems like, you know, like is the black stone evil? Is that Satan, if you will? Or the evil of the world, or again that's us, the people that are messing up the whole ocean...I would say the religion of it would be nature, not necessarily a God-based religion, it's all about nature and not marring nature and...spirituality."
I've been nodding and mumbling my agreement, but now I actually speak. "Yeah, it's like there's a road, and then just like suddenly there's a black stone and a dark, forbidden, veil religion surrounded by worship, and there's waves and fish and then ribs again...which could be biblical..." At the confusion I see, I add, "...the whole Adam and Eve thing..."
Mom says, "Ooh, nice! Look at that, creation with ribs and all that, look at you! Nice!" As Mom's voice gets louder in her excitement, the dog looks up and smiles at us, breathing through her mouth. Then she runs over and noses my hand as my I start talking.
"It's supposed to be about what you think..." I mutter.
"But now that's in my head, so it is what I think." Mom scans the poem again as the dog starts licking my hand. "See, it almost sounds like here, there'll be villages, thousands of tongues, there'll be people and that's not good. There'll be all these problems when the people come. You know, people walkin about, talking to each other, and an echo- And I think he just kinda...he really feels like people should not be messing up nature. I believe that is the underlying theme."
I nod. This is what I've been thinking, after all. I glance at the clock and I decide we have time for one more question before I want to get food, so I ask, "So, would you say that the poem is like...hopeful? Or, like, dark undertones, like humans are screwing everything up, or like it's all gonna solve itself?"
Mom doesn't even hesitate. "I definitely think it has darker undertones, I think it's pessimistic, cos I feel like, you know, nature, if you will, was doing just fine, thank you very much, and then we have this fish that shouldn't be here-
"So people are fish?" I interject.
"I think, you know how like evolution...there's that evolution picture that's like the amoeba in the water sort of thing, so that's us, that's people, shouldn't be here, footsteps, here we come." I walk my fingers across the mousepad. "Walking, and the black stone, evil. I mean a dark veil of kabala, that's evil. First fish out of creation, so Adam and Eve, ribs, and then look, we've made civilization, and we're...effing it all up!" I laugh as she reads the a few lines of the poem aloud. "'this fish from the air of so many untangles and ten thousand years later there are trees...' Now, to me that's a good thing, that there are trees, but maybe he's saying, you know, that the world was so much better when it was just a bunch of water, and everything was allowed to live and be and...yeah, I don't see any hope at all."
I'm a little surprised by this, since I consider the end to be quite hopeful, so I scroll down to the bottom of the poem and ask, "Not even at the end?" We both speed-scan the ending. "Like, that last line, just makes me feel like the Earth's gonna swallow us up," I say.
"Yes!" she exclaimed. Wait, I thought she disagreed with me... "That's exactly what I thought!"
Okay, well... "So then it's not positive for us, but from the poetry's point of view, it's the point of view of the fish, like, they want all the humans to be fish food."
"Yeah...It's almost like..." Mom reads a few scattered words I can't make out. "Like the water's gonna overtake us and be like, you messed everything up so we're gonna swallow you up again and start over."
We pause again. The dog tries to lie her head down on my feet, decides they are uncomfortable, and noses her way under my feet instead. "All right, so, I think I have enough. It's been a good fifteen minutes...okay." I stop the recording.
"That was fun," Mom says as we go back upstairs. The dog races in front of me and almost makes me trip.
"For sure. But now I want food," I say.
I think our conversation was quite beneficial to me in analyzing the poem. My mom and I did see things quite similarly, but some of her points were very different from mine. I see the end of the poem as hopeful, the humans coexisting with nature and all the fish. The ocean would swallow us up to return peace, but humans are resilient. We would have come back. But my mom saw it the end of the poem as more bad than good. She thought that the world would have gotten rid of all the humans, almost like it was exterminating them intentionally. She thought that the poem was not hopeful, and that it was foreshadowing certain death for the bad things on the planet, which were humans. She also saw things very differently, the first thing she got out of the poem was the passage of time. I looked at things more directly, thinking about fish and nature and humans screwing up the ocean, but my mom saw it as more of a progression, cause and effect, of the circle of destruction and rebirth. The world was fine before humans, but then the humans did come around and take too much. But then at the end everything is fine because the people are gone again, so the world can start over. This experience has been very beneficial to my understanding of this poem and I am glad that I had the opportunity to do this.