Firmament ~ Dore Kiesselbach


   —“Long period” comets have eccentric orbits that can exceed 100,000 years.


We rise early and, while it’s still cool, breakfast
on the patio then walk with other hotel guests
carrying flipper- and mask-filled mesh bags
to a concrete pier where throaty outboards
meet us.  Up and down the coast, other piers,
other motors and other groups of divers.
Wakes soon mullion the morning sea.
To make the most of their trips, visitors
especially newcomers like the two of
us, must hire a master intimate with
the marine terroir. Those who taught
us in a stateside swimming pool have
tried the local talent and recommend
Pasqual.  Five feet tall and roundish,
with a face predating Cortez, he greets
each of eight clients as we board
a 30-footer that cost his youth to earn.
Licensed and responsible for our
lives he gauges us in glances, weighing
attitudes and equilibrium, choosing
whom to keep a practiced eye
on down below.  Fingers absent
from both hands point to mainland
factory runoff encountered in the
womb but the waters he leads
us to are clear.  Passing two abreast
behind him in a dappled 3D glide
we find nurse sharks lounging
in a swaying grove of kelp and
parrot-jawed clownfish swooping
to nip greens.  Barracuda measure
us, stepping off, stepping up.  We
stir a watchful swirl of sequins
in a cave.  After three immense
immersions, a break for dinner,
and a nap, we reassemble for our
first night dive.  Who’d have guessed
how little getting used to falling
off a slow cliff of inner darkness takes?
Our eyes walk on pickup sticks of
light.  Eels ripple from recesses
while nautiluses climb the water
column.  Clicking crabs sumo
when kabuki won’t resolve their
differences. The cuttlefish hovering
beside us displays a pattern on itself
akin to calligraphy as it holds our
gaze across a gulf of time broad
enough for corals to microscopically
iterate atolls in as they blossom
and die.  We linger, watching polyps
siphon particles from the flow,
then surface, ecstatic, in amniotic
swells beside the boat.  When silence
overlaps our gasps, Pasqual points
up. In the bright plankton of the
Milky Way it resembles the first
invertebrates, sponges and jellyfish
that we’ve risen from.  It has over-
flown those phyla thousands of times.
Knowing how fast it’s going, as the Mid-
western minister among us happens to,
makes its apparent stillness that much
more attractive.  When it last appeared
people were starting to adorn themselves
with shells. When it comes again, we’ll be gone.