Self-Portrait as Medusa in Shock
Medusa being the Italian word for, of all things, jellyfish—precious, fleshy poison sacks,
the sea’s white spit: as if Perseus had released the severed head back into the water, and the head had burst, metamorphosed, like a kind of Christian remorse,
into a swarm of these upside-down, dunce-faced nothings; dotted and rootless sea-trees; the gods’ hungriest, most unloved children.
And though I never loved the stories where turning a mirror on a thing
cured it of itself, I did love the stories of delivery and return: Jonah, cracked from the whale’s skull, or Jesus, cracked from the cave,
and Lazarus, and the prodigal, racked with guilt,
and even Eve-like Medusa, if only in a mirror-shield, cracked, and from her neck, from the interior, spilled a golden giant and a winged horse, imagine that—
all in an impossible shock, I like to think, of color. Impossibility being any god’s word
When I allow myself, in stories, to return to some point of origin, the way souls drag with them their finite bodily sadnesses if they return to heaven,
the stories always recount the returns I have made to my own father.
In my versions of heaven—my father’s
rented boat off the coast in the Sicilian north, say—I struggle always to climb aboard and in that struggle am kissed above the right elbow
by a medusa. And my father, outraged by this offense—
and though he can afford to be stung by nothing, though a bee or red ant or jellyfish would stop his heart—arms himself with his wife’s
snorkel gear, and for a half hour circles the boat to snatch up, in a little net you might use to scoop dead goldfish from their bowls,
all the jellyfish he can find, turning them out to slowly die on the spackled deck next to the boat’s ladder.
It seems a father can work to keep his children from the world’s injuries,
but rarely his own—the way, in anaphylaxis, when a sting felt again is tremendous enough, even the body’s healing turns an accidental mirror on itself
and irreparably cracks. This, in the stories of seeing the self, is the shock that makes any return to it impossible:
from the interior, a healing so great it petrifies the heart for good.
Jayme Ringleb’s poems have appeared recently or are forthcoming in Poetry, jubilat, Gulf Coast, The Journal, At Length, The Adroit Journal, Sixth Finch, and at Poets.org. He currently teaches in Tallahassee, Florida, where he is Poetry Editor for The Southeast Review.