Mise en Scène + The Nipple Fish

C. Dale Young

Mise en Scène

Indigo, aquamarine, turquoise, and a patch
of seafoam: the eye notes it all as we stand
on the sand facing the sea. We always come

back to the sea, its tireless monologue,
the sky above as clear and just as blue.
Between us, few words, the very mark

of familiarity. A quick look suffices, 
and we get naked, not an ounce of modesty 
between us and no one around to judge us.

In the surf, we are like children again,
yet to be hurt, yet to know hunger or
desperation. We do not bathe; we frolic.

One imagines a ship in the distance, people
on deck with binoculars making out the splash
of water and the movement of our arms,

but nothing like that exists here outside
of our imaginations. The sea god has granted
us an empty beach, an empty slice of the sea,

and clouds as expressive as Impressionists,
clouds revealing the basic shapes: bird, face,
starburst and tree. The early afternoon ends

with the two of us lying on a single towel
air drying so we can dress and return
to the town facing the Bay which might as well

be another world. Our arms touch, our hips
touch, and even the air tastes salty at this hour.
We lie there carefully listening to the sea.

The Nipple Fish

Believe me, I know these fish. They are no joke.
The Cenote Cristalino appears as if it has captured 
the sky above and liquefied it, and in the heat 

of late afternoon, it appears even more seductive 
than it normally does. But then there are the fish,
the nipple fish, tiny fish that, for whatever reason,

like to nip at the nipples. I tell the truth here.
And as we enter the waters of the cenote, 
the very minute the water is above the nipple line,

we feel them. Not painful, but definitely surprising.
What is the lesson here? Must there always be a lesson?
Even the most beautiful places carry something less

than beautiful? I don’t know, but we both laugh
as the fish pay us attention that we weren’t expecting.
The sun tilts and tilts, and the shadows begin creating

even darker blues among the bright ones that drew
us here in the first place. We swim and marvel.
We keep moving to avoid the surprise of these fish

that are always just waiting, waiting for you to stop 
moving so they can remind you why their name is so apt.
For a couple of long hours, we swim in the sky. 

We are like gods who have returned to the heavens,
to the seas, but the bites from the tiny fish in these waters
remind us we remain human, all too human.

C. Dale Young is the author of a novel and five collections of poetry, the most recent of which is Prometeo (2021). A recipient of fellowships from the NEA, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation, he practices medicine full-time and teaches in the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers. He lives in San Francisco.

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