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Inter-Galactic, Digitalized Prose Poem (Podcast, Decoded, in 2525)
“She and I drove to the beach with the dog for a morning walk. She started to tell me a story about a friend of a friend, that she heard relayed online. The dog sprinted ahead to retrieve a ball that I pelted as far as I could. The dog brought the ball back to me, dropped it at my feet. I picked it up and flung it again, and off the dog sprinted, again. We interrupted her, mid-sentence: the dog with its return of the ball and my need to take a couple of steps to build up momentum for my pitch of the ball as far as my tiring, left arm allowed. How hard for her to tell her story in these conditions. I did this several times before she asked me, irritably, if I wanted to hear the story or not. I decided to leash the dog and carry the ball. She resumed her story.

          ‘…As they ran on the beach in the dark before dawn, they kept their eyes a few feet in front of them. A loose fringe of sea bordered one side of the flat, compact sand. They ran between the raised beach to their left, just out of the reach of the sea, where, in a few hours, holidaymakers would splay on towels, roughly spaced out, and, to their right, the endless percussion of waves tumbling, jaggedly, splintery, foamingly. Lifeguard huts, empty and shuttered at the early hour, punctuated their run. Every twenty steps or so, they lifted their eyes to scan ahead, and around them, and with each stock-take of their route, the horizon yielded a little more of itself, as their eyes grew accustomed to the dark that thinned, imperceptibly.

          ‘Soon their stride found its measure, from a series of missteps with small adjustments made to the length of their step, to the ideal of their weight pivoted on the ball of their foot. They felt raceless, alone on the beach this early in the day. Not trans, not anything, just human. Now that they found that groove or zone, they could run for a long time. They gained a near metronomic pattern in their glance up and around them and look down once more directly at the path. They breathed heavy, ribs separating as they drank deep on the air, mouth-agape. Sweat broke out and beaded on their forehead, getting ready to trickle and fill them with satisfaction that sweat covered them, in January, outside, in 50-degree weather, albeit in the enviable Mediterranean climate of Southern California. They felt their mood brightening, flooded by endorphins. If they could sing and run, they would, just like the evangelical runner that they passed on some mornings who sang hymns and wore big earphones, and who could be heard well before he was seen properly. 

          ‘One of these rotations of their eyes, first down in front of their feet, then up and around, and down again on the path, covered about twenty-five meters. They must have been about a third of the way into their run. They began to lift their gaze. Their eyes landed on an object, half in the water, half on the beach, and lapped by the waves. They slowed from sheer instinct and squinted to see what lay in their path. They gazed so that they could settle on one of the dozen or so nouns that circled in their mind for the likeliest thing that would be here on the beach at this time. This dawning that was their chance to avoid the crowds and get ahead of the day with a workout. First on their list: dead or poorly seal (they had seen a dead one months before, and on another occasion, a live one that was slow and seemed reluctant to return to the waves, though several bystanders tried to herd it from the beach toward the water). Second: half-buried, old sofa or mattress (both seen from time to time, dragged across the sand by drunken holidaymakers, and settled on for a few hours of drink and drugs, and who knows what carnality, then abandoned to the sea). Third, a log or driftwood (seen a lot in their years of running the strip between Santa Monica and Venice piers, and always arresting, less wood and more like an art object, sculpted the way salt and current treat wood, as if it were a body to be covered in gouges and scar tissue in tattoo patterns). Fourth: seaweed, tangled into a huge clump (in the past, they smiled at the stuff thrown up onto the beach by the tide, that dogs ran to and sniffed, and peed all over, they grinned at the thought of the chef on the news who collected these weeds, prepared them in their Michelin-starred method, and served them up to gullible customers, at a hefty price).

          ‘They reached the spot in the sand and saltwater. They halted, leaned forward with their hands on their hips, and their eyes widened. Names, not on their list, jumped out, for what their sight picked up in the thinning dark. They brought their hands to their head and took two steps back. They peered again, open-mouthed, unable to catch their breath. Their eyes raked about for another soul, anyone, to help confirm what now filled their head with its nouns, from the limbs and long hair, from the passive obedience to the cover and uncover of the sea and sand…’

          “The dog tugged hard on the leash, which slipped from my grip. The lead bounced at its feet as the dog sprinted toward sanderlings that scuttled after the retreating waves with vigorous pecks at the sand. I chased and called the dog. ‘Frosty! Frosty!” The flock swarmed out to sea, just far enough for Frosty to lose interest, then the whole group curved back to the beach about fifty meters behind us. I caught up with Frosty, grabbed his leash and said repeatedly in my mock-stern voice, bad dog. We walked back about twenty meters to meet the storyteller for what must surely be the final installment of her tale. She shook her head as if to clear it. She seemed to smile at us, more at the dog than at me. Still, I wanted to take a bow. Walking in uneven sand with Frosty pulling on the leash to get back to her, made me change my mind. I shrugged. I looked at her, for her to continue with her story. She shook her head again and we walked on, our ears keen to the waves, our skin whipped by the breeze.” 

Fred D’Aguiar’s books include the novel Children of Paradise (2014), the poetry collection Letters to America (Carcanet Press, 2020), and the memoir Year of Plagues (Harper, 2021). His first publication in our pages was in Conjunctions:27, The Archipelago: New Caribbean Writing (1996).