The Black Sea Nettle, the Blue Blubber, the Pink Meanie, the Sea Wasp, the Flower Hat, the Cannonball, the Darth Vader, and the Fried Egg. The Butterflies drift like embroidered hankies dropped by dainty damsels. The Mauve Stingers pulse with the coloring of a rotting, uprooted mushroom. The Medusa Cassiopeias glow like lava lamp chandeliers and the Crown Jellyfish glint like bedazzled vulvas. The deadly Portuguese Man O’ War (commonly mistaken for a jellyfish but actually a siphonophore) looks like a box of blue Otter Pops left to melt in the sun. Most likely, it was the transparent parachute of the Aurelia labiata or Moon Jellyfish that collided with you that day.
Floating in the Sea of Cortez you feel a razor slice. Your heart. Lightning right to your heart. Or is it your belly? You thrash towards the tiny-shell beach that hits like broken glass under your feet. Towards the two-walled palapa, your backpack with the jar of peanut butter, your parachute silk hammock strung up, deflated and thin. You suck in air in ragged gulps.
Jellyfish are not strong swimmers. They spend most of their lives at the mercy of the ocean currents. Vagabond wave-hoppers. Sloppy can-can dancers flying by the seat of their fancy britches. Undulating Rapunzels with a predilection for energy efficiency.
You step over rocks that shift your ankles precariously. Sliding on a strip of beached bull kelp, you see them. Gelatinous opals. Foul-honeyed diamonds. What a silicon breast implant must look like ripped from the body. There on the beach, dead.
It had been over a week since you last came to town, riding shotgun with Canadian Frank. You get filtered water, bread, another jar of peanut butter. You do laundry, check your emails in the café, and get an ice cream. Inside the heladería, you taste the shape of each unfamiliar word as it floats across your tongue: fresa, sandía, galletas y crema, mantequilla. Call me, the emails said.
Fish eggs, brine shrimp, nudibranch, sea snails, plankton, tiny crustaceans: they’re not picky eaters. Smacks of jellies have been known to wipe out entire underwater food chains, leaving nothing behind in the palpitating curtain’s wake.
In the phone booth on the corner, red welt raised across your abdomen, you stand in your sweaty tank top. You breathe the hot breath smell of others that also held lips this close to the receiver. You hear the words. You walk down the street back to Canadian Frank’s truck. You say the words. Canadian Frank hands you an almost-cold can of Coca-Cola, the kind with the real sugar in it. You tell him how your father used to pour Coke on his Cheerios. How you always thought that was so strange. You suck in air in ragged gulps.
A hardy creature, it is believed that jellyfish once swam the seas with dinosaurs. The oldest known fossils date back over 500 million years. If a jellyfish gets cut in half, it can regenerate into two separate organisms. If a jellyfish gets injured it can clone itself, producing hundreds of quivering, identical offspring.
It felt like floating. When you sat in that folding chair on that manicured lawn in that suburb of Sacramento. Black, closed-toed shoes borrowed from your cousin covering your tanned feet. That itchy outline like a fat, pink earthworm still on your stomach.
An adult jellyfish, or medusa, reproduces by releasing sperm or eggs into the water. These cells, once conjoined, are called planula larvae. The planula float alone at the surface, propelled by tiny hairs, until sinking to the ocean floor and attaching to a rock. Hopefully out of reach from predators, the planula becomes a budding polyp and then begins to clone itself over and over again.
If ashes were spread into the sea, would they be mistaken for plankton? Our dusty bodies floating like nudibranch-rich sand clouds on warm currents. Our once-flesh transformed into the hungry creatures that consume us. Living on as florescent ribbons of trailing tentacles, bone-less drifting domes. Leaving a mark of lightning on the skin of those we collided with. Cloning our torn pieces forever.