MAY 21 by Chella Courington

May 21

She spent the morning reading Mrs. Dalloway, flinching at Rezia’s extreme solitude in a strange city with a strange language and Septimus Smith her only friend. For she had left the comfort of home, left Italy with a husband she hardly knew, a man who spoke to the unseen. And Diana felt Rezia’s fear, adrift in a shell-shocked world. Eighty-five years later British Petroleum stretched across the Gulf of Mexico, coating shrimp and brown pelicans in crude oil that gushed 30,000 barrels daily from a damaged well. How could Diana possibly go to a party and drown herself in small talk when the oil was killing sea turtles and their progeny? If Diana cared, why wasn’t she raking oil paddies on the Alabama beaches? Or clearing plastic and coke cans from Hendry’s beach next to her apartment? She wanted to improve the material and spiritual welfare of those around her. She believed activists like her friend Marcia saved us from our callous selves. Marcia organized Beach Angels who met on the sand every Sunday and swept away pounds of broken glass and metal. The nearest Diana came to removing potential toxins from the environment was when she slipped into latex-free gloves and a surgical mask to clean Rhoda’s litter box. Feeling her flushed face, Diana reached for the thermometer.  


I have lived near two coasts: the Gulf of Mexico in Alabama and the Pacific Ocean in California. As a child, I saw the lights of the oil platforms and imagined a fleet of ships returning from distant lands with spices and silk robes and other exotic gifts I couldn’t shape except as hidden in jeweled boxes. Now, I see the lights and imagine each one is a boil, glowing in the night until its inevitable rupture when oil spews forth like infected blood.
Chella Courington’s recent work appears or is forthcoming in The Los Angeles Review, Gargoyle, Opium Magazine, Pirene’s Fountain, and The Collagist. Her first chapbook was Southern Girl Gone Wrong, and her second chapbook of prose poetry, Girls & Women, will be released by Burning River in Spring 2011. She now teaches writing, poetry, and fiction at Santa Barbara City College.

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