A Reef, Someday

by Trisha M. Cowen

For the Undersea Statue project by Jason deCaires Taylor

You, my new statue, are dropped in the sea today in shallow blue water right after sunrise. The installation team uses cranes to set you down, gently, on the ocean floor. When you land, the floor rumbles and sends creatures and sand scattering from invisible places towards the surface. I wait for the sand to settle before I scuba down to the resting point of my synthetic city to check out how you, my newly submerged statue of a pudgy man watching television, look amongst the others. You look at home between the sea grass and stone and lazy schools of fish curious to learn about their new neighbor. I return to take pictures of my altered creations the ocean has re-created and spit out. Soon, you will look like them. Someday, I won’t be able to recognize you.

The sea feels strange today and I a stranger, even to the faces of the sculptured people I carved with my own hands. Some no longer have eyes and most have spikey protuberances from their edges and I feel angry for small seconds at the sea for altering my formations even though I gave them willingly to her briny depths. I come upon a stone man with his lips pursed and eyes pinched. I hardly recognize him. The last time I saw him he was bald. Now, shoots of red coral thorn from his head in the shape of a crown. I must change his name to “Man on Fire.”

It is at these times that I swim away, swim deeper from the statues that were once mine, trying to move from this deranged sea that somehow is inescapable. The sea, with strange dark rooms that get darker as you descend down the levels by twisting from one terrain to another, is not a friend, but a business partner; however, there are no stairs in this skyscraper. It is far more bewildering. The penthouse has skylights in the roof, with green-blue bulbs that turn off with the moon. I think about the boatmen, snorkeling tourists, and spectators that watch through glass-bottomed boats. They may find you and mistake you for a miniature lost city, a piece of rock wonder, a treasure, which is funny because your sinking was advertised in the Cancún papers: 9 am on Sunday, January the 29th. But it was just me and the gulls and the crane crew who came to watch your immersion.

I imagine the people’s reactions to your coral-covered faces that burn pink in the afternoon sun.  I keep having a recurring dream about a little girl in an elephant speckled bathing suit and a tan bucket hat, her skin glazed in sun, as she yells to her father over the small engine fans of the snorkel boat, “Daddy, Daddy, it’s Atlantis, the lost city!” And he leans over the boat’s side but with his eyes closed. His body is tense, his muscles squeezed into spasm, because the man in my dreams has always been afraid of sharks and Cancún breeds a sharp exoticism that he both fears and desires.

“But Daddy, Daddy,” the strange little girl in my dream says. “It really is Atlantis!” He looks again over the boat’s side. His eyes pinch and then blossom and he thinks for a moment, his perspective muddled by the sun and the water’s mirrored surface, that it really is Atlantis.

You, my statue, are my Atlantis. My lost city, the golden ruins I’ve conjured from the caged aquarium of my mind, the dendritic waves summoning growths that multiply and expand the potential of my being. When I look at you in this revised state, after the sea has had her way with you and marked you with her scent, I know that you were made not for me, but of me.  I do wonder, though, if I am the artist, or if I just believe I am so. For it’s the sea who moves her salty fingers over your body and interprets meaning from your uneven crevices and fractured, clumsy smile.

Although I think I’m swimming away from you, I find myself, once again, swimming against the current to examine you. For it is hard to let you go. But I must leave you here, my strange wall to hang my masterpiece, and let the tides and storms do as they will. I may go to work on a new statue and forget you while your mineral skin grows green but this is when your work starts. Call in the fish and the corals and give them shelter. It’s not about you; it’s about them. Oh, statue, don’t cry because no one is looking. Your tears taste exactly like the sea and when an unsuspecting swimmer miles away gulps them down, the tang will knock him off balance but after coughing up the salty inertia he will blame it on the sea, not your grief. Be patient because your time will come. You can be more than a replica in a family picture album that sits dusty on a high shelf. I have drilled holes in your head, your torso and tummy, for fish to hide and coral to congregate.

Someday, I will return with a new brother for you to sit beside and watch as he, too, changes as you will. When the time comes, I will not blame you if you don’t recognize me, for you have a new creator now. And her sinuous seaweed hair is more alluring than your father’s ever was, and we can no longer breathe the same air.

For now, you live in a room where nature, science, and art collide while we wait for the others to catch on. That sounds nice, doesn’t it? Don’t laugh at them for their strange interpretations. They will deconstruct you until you mean everything and nothing. Be patient while the coral hardens and the sponges paint designs on your back. For the change mustn’t be resisted. If it weren’t for you they’d have nowhere to go. Wait. Just wait for them to come, but for now, you are just for curious sting rays to tickle. Just for orange and striped fish to look and lick and wonder.


Trisha M. Cowen currently works as an Assistant Professor of English at Westminster College in Pennsylvania. Her creative work has appeared in The Portland Review, Bitter Oleander Press, and 2 Bridges Review, among many others, and she’s the author of the chapbook Mobiles in the Sky (2014), published by Gertrude Press.

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