Deep Salt Water: Month Six

Posted by 
Cara Lang

Room is pleased to feature Month 6 of the captivating and thought-provoking Deep Salt Water, an interdisciplinary collaboration among four artists—author Marianne Apostolides, collage artist Catherine Mellinger, photographer Melanie Gordon, and composer Paul Swoger-Ruston—based on the forthcoming book by Apostolides of the same title.

Deep Salt Water is an intimate memoir about abortion, expressed through the language and imagery of the ocean. In Month 5, we witnessed a relationship become brittle to the point of breaking. This installment, Month 6, stands in for the seventeen years during which Apostolides and the man did not speak to each other. 

The book itself will have 37 pieces—an intentional choice, since a full-term pregnancy lasts 37 weeks—but this exploration with Room will only have nine (yes, nine monthly installments is no coincidence either). In curating the writing for these monthly features, Apostolides wanted to create a cohesive narrative for Room’s readers. So, although this piece moves backward in time—describing her lover’s childhood—it also opens up the space in which readers feel the passage of seventeen years.

To hear this month’s text read aloud by Apostolides, embedded in a larger sonic landscape by Swoger-Ruston, scroll to the bottom of the page. 

Deep Salt Water: Month Six

A whale dove down, through shallow waters. He dug a piece of shale with his mouth; you wear it around your neck on a chain. It’s a fossil whose words are in Hebrew.

The whale was your father. He grew two blowholes on top of his head. He could breathe through those passages; he was preparing. He knew, more than most, the phrase ‘I will die’ is not an abstraction. But what could he do? Fall in love, propose marriage, and have two kids by age twenty-two.

He could teach you a mystery of the ocean.

He won’t be around when you’re older.

He kept you inside his lungs for years, till the polyp burst inside his brain. You were sleeping when they told you the news. “Wake up! Wake up! Your dad is dead!” For years, you’re not sure what’s a dream and what’s real.

The lessons are not in their natural order. You rubbed the lotion when pain was bad. You knew when flares of illness were coming. You saw his skin flake, his itch gnaw: treatments fail. You would get the water for his pills. Drink it down.

≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈

You’re six years old. “Listen, sonny boy,” your father said. What came next was the wisdom: a truth that’s indelible, written on stone over thousands of years. But it couldn’t mean anything, not to a boy. It’s a pattern of sounds. It’s the tone of command: that you understood.

By the time you were ten, he’d determined which mystery he would teach: the complex song of the humpback whale, which no person actually comprehends.

He knew you could handle it.

You learned his song; you memorized themes. You repeated the notes so that you could retain them. He gave you praise and bought you doughnuts: “Don’t tell your mother…” As if this were your deepest secret. He took you to work, where you stood and observed. He constructed houses, drove a convertible. The heart of a whale is the size of a car. You could feel it thump as he took curves fast. With wind in your hair: the humpbacks leap higher than any whale. But no one knows why. They think maybe it soothes them: it cleans the pests that irritate skin. It would flake in your hand. You could tell that it hurt him. It soothed him, the lotion. They might breach for fun.

Breathing, for whales, is an act of will. It’s not automatic. It doesn’t just happen. He died at your school. It was ‘Back to School Night.’ You then walked through the hallways. You thought you were dreaming: Wake up!

≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈

At age fourteen, you discover punk. You thrash your tail and strike the water, slap your pecs and smash into others. These whales are aggressive, but only when needed. (You need it when you live on the street.) You’re fluking up: you vertical beat then you dive to the bottom. Your mother has had it. She sends you away. You stay submerged for the longest time: he gave you capacity in your lungs. From father to son—that’s the path of this knowledge. It’s only males who sing this song, and only when they’re completely alone.

After two decades, you want to explore the buried lessons. Tune yourself to spectral peaks, the cluster of formants and wave-form shapes. The scientists cautiously draw conclusions: it’s possibly larynx and muscle dynamics, with U-fold vibration and air-filled sacs. In truth, the scientists only guess. This whale is evasive, exceedingly private. He only has time for what’s important.

Listen, sonny boy…

You plot, on a graph, all the frequency jumps. They become non-linear: a pattern that’s normal for woodwind and brass. You discover jazz. You lie on your bed and remember the phrases. The record plays; you’d memorized themes. The somatic sensations provided feedback. Songs evolve—old patterns discarded, retained like a haunting. You’re now thirty-three: the age of your father when he died.

You come to shore: an awkward boy who’d lived in a whale, who’d learned life’s themes before it was natural.

You are an oddity.

I am uneven.

You ride above, along this song you now understand. I’m watching your breathing, your body above me. I wrap my legs around your hips. You like my strength; it poses a challenge. I know what I want. I want leaps that are gorgeous, are violent: non-linear. Hold your hips with the vice of my muscle. I look in your eyes as I draw myself toward you. I take your necklace in my mouth.

Between the teeth, I’ll lay myself down.

You will follow.

Click here to listen to Swoger-Ruston’s soundscape, featuring Apostolides’ reading of Deep Salt Water: Month Six.

Month 5 of Deep Salt Water is available here. 


Deep Salt Water by Marianne Apostolides will be published by BookThug in April 2017, but you can pre-order your copy, which will be shipped to you before the book is launched.

This month’s images are from “Lungs 2,” a mixed-media collage by Catherine Mellinger, macro-photographed by Melanie Gordon. 

We’d like to acknowledge the financial support of the Ontario Arts Council, which funded Marianne Apostolides in the writing of her text, and the Waterloo Regional Arts Fund, which funded Catherine Mellinger in the creation of her collages.




Marianne Apostolides is the author of five books, three of which have been translated. She’s also a recipient of the Chalmers Arts Fellowship. Deep Salt Water is forthcoming from BookThug in spring 2017.

Catherine Mellinger is an analog collage artist and mixed media artist whose works find inspiration in ideas originated by the Dadaist and early Surrealists, breaking the barriers of an image in order to re-infuse it with lyricism. Using vintage paper ephemera and personal photographs mixed with pencil, pen, and watercolour, her collages explore and reflect on memory as a sensory experience. Originally from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and having studied in Toronto, Catherine now lives Waterloo, Ontario.

Melanie Gordon is a conceptual and documentary photographer based in Toronto. For the past 20 years, she's been inquiring into the nature of time, the meaning of home, and the shifts in her own identity as a woman, mother, and artist. Melanie's photographs have been described as intimate and magical tellers of stories. Her work has been exhibited in galleries and published in magazines and books in Canada and internationally.

Paul Swoger-Ruston engages in a philosophy and science of music that considers style a compounding of evolutionary, environmental, and cultural patterns of observation, evaluation, and imitation that obscure the dynamic, emergent properties of interactive gesture (body), acoustical space (environment), and neural entrainment (ear/mind).

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