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Ocean Eyes

Aimee Parkinson

1.) The Sinking Son

Yachts go down into depths where a beloved son sinks. His congested ears popping on descent, watery fluid invades his stomach with immersion to an underwater forest of aerial roots. Dunes cradle bones in black puddles like congealed blood where sea creatures devour webs of hair.

2.) The Drowning

Another young man has been found in the water. Ask the police on the shore if it’s just another unexplained drowning. Ask the sheriff. Ask the pathologist, the harbor fire department, and the medical examiner. Night falls on the coast, and another body is floating. As investigators turn the body toward the sky, don’t gaze into the eyes of the drowned. Have you ever wondered about the expression “drowning eyes”? Froth plumes around his mouth and nostrils. His distended lungs and airways swell with debris. Like blood spots on a slide, red starfish bloom in aneurysm.

3.) Gloved Hands

The coroner examines the young man’s remains in the morgue’s harsh light. Syphoning the lungs’ aspirated liquid, strangers meet in private autopsy. Gloved hands swim halogen lights flooding the steel table. The medical examiner holds the fragile fingers of the deceased’s left hand. Searching for sediment and froth in the trachea, the medical examiner is gentle like a caring mother, a soft touch like tides manipulating stilling fingers reaching rigor mortis. Delicate twists of lividity trace postmortem injury and impersonal ravages of shoreline. Cold water that once refrigerated the dead man’s body, slowing decomposition, makes pinpointing his time of death as difficult as capturing the moon with a lure dropped into black water.

4.) The “Washerwoman Change”

Examining the maceration of skin, the family doctor is as attentive as a lover, eyes dancing over the whitening, the thickening, the wrinkling, epidermis integrity lost with time. His gloved fingers drift to the drowned man’s left hand, so fragile that to touch the hand is to deglove it as it reaches for beaches, bays, kelp forests. Pathology encountered during autopsy: the loneliness, the hopelessness, the noting of the misogynistically named “washerwoman change” in the softening hands. The mushy folds of his fingers and palm in slippage are deemed womanly: washer-womanly. This medical tradition, common terminology, is scientific autopsy talk, but also passive, unconscious, imagistic woman hating in the innocent misgendering of a dead man’s hands. All too often, to drown as a man is to have a washerwoman’s hands, so is to drown as a woman or a child. Drowned hands are hands of the washerwoman, who couldn’t afford to buy oceanfront property.

5.) Drowning Eyes

The unfortunate investigator gazes into the eyes of the drowned. His gaze, coastward, seems to be searching for sloping dunes, whales, sealion children, eagles flying above a white gull swooping in formation like wind-whipped bridal veils floating waves of firmament. On the horizon, the sky is the ghost of the water until nightfall when the water becomes the ghost of the sky.

Aimee Parkison is the author of five books, including Refrigerated Music for a Gleaming Woman, winner of the FC2 Catherine Doctorow Innovative Fiction Prize.  Parkison has been published in numerous literary journals and is full Professor of English in the Creative Writing Program at Oklahoma State University.  More information is available at and on Twitter @AimeeParkison.

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