The Fish-Poison Tree

I often get the feeling that I’ve left something behind. Like that pieces of me the size of sand are scattered somewhere. Or the feeling that I’m floating in a different place than the place on earth that my body exists in. Or the feeling that a voice is going to call out from the sky, count to 10, and my entire being will explode the way that a firecracker would. And my mush would be even more mushy, just smaller mushier pieces of mush.

Maybe that because there is a part of me that’s likes things a little tense. That in fact, craves tension. That is utterly bored on earth without it.

Maybe that’s why I bought a boat? At times, Juniper is my wife. At other times, she is my mystic moon mama. At this time, she is just a baby and I have to feed her my milk and sing her songs that rhyme. She’d sink without my milk.

Yep, I’ve given birth to a sailboat and if you give birth to something you can’t just stuff it back between your legs or ears or fingers or wherever it came from and pretend it was never there. It would haunt you. You’d be the living dead.

My friend told me that traditionally, if you gave birth to a boy in Tahiti, you’d plant a coconut tree on top of the placenta and girls got the breadfruit tree. They call the placenta “p?fenua“ it means ‘core of land’ and burying it is what connects and your spirit to the earth. Nowadays people just pick any tree that speaks to them.

My dad planted a dogwood tree on top of my placeta. They sure are pretty, but have you ever smelled one? They stink to high heaven- like rotting fish mixed with semen. Maybe the scent is why I am fond of the sea?

After we sold the house, someone came along and cut my dogwood tree down. With the tree gone, I wonder about my spirit. Is it why I am a drifting seed with floating roots? And where did my guardian angels go when the tree fell down?

I don’t know what all this says about me, but I thought you should know this fact. The fact that my tree and core of land, left this earth before I did. Anyway, thanks to gravity I’m still here.

The wood on Juniper is all gone now too. We are on week two of Juniper’s facelift and I am left in a land of fiberglass.

They guys working on the boat with me are all fire and laughs. They teach me phrases like, “You can’t have the wine cask full and your wife drunk,” meaning you can’t have it all. Or “You can‘t make an omelet without breaking the egg,” meaning you can’t have creation without destruction.

The boats destroyed for sure. I only have one small uncluttered space to rest my head. I don’t know if I sleep. I think my head is too upside down and full of rocket-ships to sleep. I’m a cosmonaut.

Here’s the skinny. My brain is scattered. It’s being a little bulldozed by this construction. And there are still a few fungus gnats. And I‘m battling some roaches onboard (never allow a cardboard box onto your boat). Plus I’m working full time. And I’m torn by wanting to see all of the beautiful sites in this country. And my boat insurance just dropped me because I am here. I’m searching high and low for a new policy. One that won’t charge me a kidney and covers storms with names. Names like Billy or Petunia.

Anyhow, it’s a lot, all at once, and this is when alone feels the loneliest. Hey, what’s the loneliest bayou in the world? Bayou-self! That joke came my way at a gas station in Louisiana.

As you can tell, I needed some air, so I rented an office down the street. I’m writing a short comedy for a company that I can’t name, about a topic I also can’t name. It takes place on a toilet and there will be a monkey, that’s all you can know without knowing too much.

I drove into the crater of a volcano the other day. I saw a lot of earth-moving equipment along the way- crawler loaders, evaluators, etc. Do you think earth likes it when we dig into it and take its jewlery? I don’t. It actually causes the earth to quake. That’s a fact. If you’re gonna go digging, don’t dig too deep, and make sure to plant a seed.

I saw 15 waterfalls along the way to the crater. I stared at green fruit doves. I drummed on walnut trees. And I met the fish-poison tree. This tree was used by Polynesians to build canoes. The nut of the tree has ichthyotoxins, so it’s basically a narcotic for fish. Yeah, you just grind the nut into a pulp, plop it into a lagoon, and poof, the fish get all stoned. Easy fishing. The tree can heal humans of stonefish stings and headaches too.

The expression “Hotu painu” (poison fruit) comes from this tree. Tahitians use this phrase to refer to how colonialism made them strangers in their own land. That’s how colonialism works, just waltzes in and starts sucking the heart out of people. Without heart, our will gets lost, and without will, it makes it all the easier to bend our spirits into a new direction.

I visited “The Source” the other day too. I surfed its saltwater, sat on its black sand beach, and drank from the fresh mountain-water river that flows in the middle of its shore.

I cried there too. I was thinking about my grandma and how much she likes the ocean. I was wishing that I would have gotten to know her better. I was regretting that I hadn’t called her more. She was a strong woman, like a wolf. Much stronger than me. I never saw a day get her down. I wonder if one ever did and she just never showed it.

After that a bunch of fire ants stung me. I had forgotten how they feel. There are some things you don’t forget no matter how far offshore you go. Like the way rain smells when it mixes with land- all metallic- or how comfortable it feels to sleep in the mud after a good rain fall.

I’ll leave you today with a phrase I came up with this morning, “two captains don’t make a cook.” Remember that next time you get on a boat. Also you can take out captain and cook and replace them with any nouns you like. Two teachers don’t make a student. Two trumpets don’t make a trombone. Two la-da-das don’t make a la-de-do. Etc.

10 Replies to “The Fish-Poison Tree”

  1. Olivia, your writing never fails to touch me, edify me, scramble my brain. BTW, Lenin, the Russian revolutionary, coined the phrase, “You can’t make an omelette without breaking an egg.” My extrapolation on that is: “You can’t make a life without breaking your heart.” Or maybe it should be: “without having tour heart broken.” Who knows, maybe breaking your own heart is better. Like the face-lift you are giving Juniper, maybe we give our own selves a face-lift when we break our OWN hearts. Well, it’s a thought. I heard the bayou one, growing up in New Orleans, you know. We used to drive down into the bayous and look for alligators. You can make alligator gumbo. My dad and I used to go fishing on Bayou St. John. He was the fisherman. Not me. I’m a nester, fishing the soul. But a few times I went with him when he’d take a boat out into the Gulf of Mexico, drop anchor off one of the oil rigs, and fish would practically come flying out of the water to squirm around on the slimy deck of our boat. Lots of spade fish. Never got seasick. I rolled with the rocking and rocked with the rolling and felt right at home out there on the water, but still, can’t say I’m a sailor. I just love this land beneath my feet. Something solid beneath the turmoil of my soul. But go figure, I ended up in California, which someday they say will just break off into the sea. Wouldn’t that be fitting. A landlubber on earth, cast out into the ocean on the surfboard of this chunk of western America. Would serve me right for loving both gods. I’m looking forward to our working together in the Sequel class. Two teachers don’t make a student, two students don’t make a teacher, but maybe one student and one teacher make what both of them need. — jack

  2. Oh Olivia, I just love this so much. I haven’t had time to read all of your excerpts. But, I enjoy them so much when I do. Sending love to your lonely spot for the moment. May the stars and sun shine brightly upon you as ever. X


  3. Monkey and a toilet. Are you writing a reality of donald trump?
    I appreciate earth too, and yes she crys everytime we as humans damage it.
    Shes PISSED right now and showing us to be GOOD to her as well as each another. Our exsistance is relying on it.
    Keep living the good life your writings keep me hopefull

  4. We all have blow apart days! I will chat with another live aboard friend for insurance company names for you. I love to live vicariously through your stories.
    Susan Betts

  5. Hey Olivia – Steve says he was with Pantaenous and he got dropped. He is now with BoatUS, and they didn’t ask for a survey. Good Luck.

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