Marybeth Bishop


I tell myself I’m going down to the dock to sit and meditate. I make myself earn it first, by walking around the block. What I call meditation would make Kabat-Zin and Merton and probably Buddha face-palm. I’m actually enmeshed in a contest with a cormorant.

I’m trying to learn the cormorant’s first trick. He doesn’t hunt for food like a duck. A duck will dip its head underwater and leave its tail in the sky; it’s child’s play to pluck a quill for writing love letters, or nab the entirety for dinner—whichever sustains you. The cormorant is less ridiculous. He floats low in the water, his slender, sinuous neck narrowly missing swan-like status and reading serpentine instead. He leads with his beak, and casually slips under, slick black body disappearing silently.

I suck in my breath and start to count. It’s been decades since I regularly trained to be a mermaid, so it’s a rare day that I get past 25. I exhale and gasp at 22 and try to shake the dark stars out of my eyes for at least another count of 10 before he pops back up, silver fish flailing in his beak. He is so focused on his own battle that he doesn’t even notice me, has no idea he’s won again. He considers not the hair on my head, and whether it is worth plucking to present as a trophy to his lover. I work hard to slow my breathing, and I’m able to take some deep cleansing breaths while he’s still struggling to swallow. At least there’s that.

I haven’t tried the cormorant’s second trick. After his meal, he lifts his wings and pauses, droplets sliding from feathers, then just—lifts. He rises, leaving water and land beneath him. I know how this one is accomplished. Despite his piscine feast he’s hollow, empty to the bone. You have to be hollow to fly.  

I haven’t tried this trick, because I am afraid I will succeed.