I grew up swimming every summer in the Gulf of Mexico. It was an escape from the land-locked center of Texas, where I was raised in a small farming community. The farmland, which seemed to be not just on the outskirts of the town, but also under one’s feet, was considered extraordinarily well fit for agriculture, rich, very little clay, and black. Cotton was the primary crop, as it had been the mid-1800’s, when the town was founded, due to the cotton. Not that this prosperity increased the population. The land was flat and stretched for miles, offering a restful sense of expansion to the eye.
It was a six hour drive to the Gulf of Mexico. The shore was warm, the waves were a light muddy gray, very unlike the brilliant blues in magazine photos of the Pacific or Tahiti. In summer, the waves were usually strong enough to be overpowering but behaved in fairly mild ways, rarely taking one under into a riptide. A few feet from shore they reached your mid-section, and just a little further out, where the shore dropped out, and you could no longer touch bottom, the waves were over your head. The horizon was also flat and infinite. There was something else out there.
I live in California now, which also has beautiful land fit for growing things, but it is not my land. I never think about this until I find myself once again in my land, and I notice it. California carries the sensation of air and light, whereas Texas, though it, too, carries the sensation of light, has mostly the pull of the land. People feel pulled into the land there, and simultaneously sprung out from it.
I do not like the term “the gulf”. I prefer “The Gulf of Mexico.” Which is its name. Across the waters, another country, more land.
Gillian Conoley was born in Austin Texas, where, on its rural outskirts, her father and mother owned and operated a radio station. She is the author of seven collections of poetry, including the newly released THE PLOT GENIE with Omnidawn (2009). Her other books include PROFANE HALO, LOVERS IN THE USED WORLD, and TALL STRANGER, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her work has received many prizes, including the Jerome J. Shestack Poetry Prize from The American Poetry Review, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, and a Fund for Poetry Award, and has been anthologized in over 20 national and international anthologies, including W.W. Norton’s American Hybrid. Editor and founder of Volt magazine, she teaches in the Program for Writers and Poets at Sonoma State University. She is currently translating Henri Michaux’s Four Hundred Men on the Cross.