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My Daughter (The Olive)

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Öd’ und leer das Meer. How bleak and void the sea. How black and how wine-dark the glassy, glossy surface of my mind, under which all manner of ravenous maws yawn and split, gulf-like; in the depths of which so many monsters marry memories, and make madness manifest. I push it down beneath the glass: my madness. My ocean. My wide, dark, wine-dark universe of screaming. Only once I was submerged; I lost myself in the deep blue blackness and images, constant images, came up in visions like a series of liquid ghosts, palimpsestic spectres, one on top of the last, pushing me down with the weight of emotion, until I was on the seabed looking up through a tunnel of memories forged in water. (“The many men, so beautiful! / And they all dead did lie: / And a thousand thousand slimy things / Lived on; and so did I.” )


In time, I was hauled up, gasping and spluttering for air (for I had forgotten in my madness to grow gills) and I used the debris to build myself an island in the middle of my ocean (there, to the left, a stupendous leg of granite, do you see?). A wise man once said an island does not stop being deserted just because it is inhabited. (“Alone, Alone, all, all alone / Alone on a wide wide sea!”)


“…that question so dear to the old explorers- “which creatures live on deserted islands?”- one could only answer: human beings live there already, but uncommon humans, they are absolutely separate, absolute creatures, in short, an Idea of humanity, a prototype, a man who would almost be a god, a woman who would be a goddess, a great Amnesiac, a consciousness of Earth and Ocean, an enormous hurricane, a beautiful witch, a statue from the Easter islands.” – Gilles Deleuze, ‘Desert Islands’

Kali lives on that island, and Shiva, beneath her. And for the briefest of moments, so did Persephone.

(“I lie on the floor, washed by nothing and hanging on. I cry at night. I am afraid of hearing voices, or a voice. I have come to the edge, of the land. I could get pushed over.” )


When I first learnt of my pregnancy, I worried my legacy would be one of horror. Like all mothers, I wished to preserve my child from the evils of the world, but then, not all mothers embody the evils of the world. I worried about turning into my own mother, who hanged herself from the olive tree in our garden. And if I am the olive tree my mother hanged herself on, then it follows that the new life inside me would be a little olive. A perfect, round, little olive. How would I protect my daughter from the sea when it is in her blood? How apt, I thought, that I should make her her own island, her own little cosmic egg, so close to the sea but worlds away. No, she should have her father’s mind: a palace – she would be a princess.



“The whole Mediterranean- the sculptures, the palms, the gold beads, the bearded heroes, the wine, the ideas, the ships, the moonlight, the winged gorgons, the bronze men, the philosophers- all of it seems to rise out of the sour, pungent taste of black olives between the teeth. A taste older than meat or wine, a taste as old as cold water. Only the sea itself seems as ancient a part of the region as the olive…” – Lawrence Durrell, ‘Prospero’s Cell’

When the ultrasound[waves] echoed against the empty chamber of my womb, when the picture showed me nothing but an image of myself from the inside, and not the perfect little olive I so longed to see; when I was told the chemicals I had been taking to control the ocean had caused this pretence of motherhood, through a sense of pooling grief I began to understand

That my daughter (the olive)
My daughter (the perfect cosmic egg)
Was not a sea-creature;
No, my daughter (mine, the fruit, not his, the princess)
Was the sea itself.

I had built an island to get away from the sea, only to be impregnated by it. I was the mother of the sea, I was the mother of my own madness (the sea itself… as ancient as… the olive…)

“for whatever we lose (like a you or a me), it’s always ourselves we find in the sea”



//Excerpts and references:
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner – Samuel Taylor Coleridge
The Odyssey – Homer
Desert Islands – Gilles Deleuze
Prospero’s Cell – Lawrence Durrell
Cat’s Eye – Margaret Atwood
Maggie, millie, molly, may – e. e. cummings