n. infantile pattern of suckle-swallow movement in which the tongue is placed between incisor teeth or between alveolar ridges during initial stage of swallowing (if persistent can lead to various dental abnormalities) v. [content removed due to Bush campaign to clean up the internet] n. act of nyah-nyah v. pursuing with relentless abandon the need to masticate and thrust the world into every bodily incarnation in order to transform it, via the act of salivation, into nutritive agency

Thursday, September 20, 2007


Each year she adds a new knot to the pile of knots she has been making, and the nets she helps along are, each year, newly marked by a particular system, an additional knot that somehow denotes her passage through time, the small signs of her individual existence. Beyond the making of knots, Esther is nearly unknowable; it would be difficult to describe her thought patterns, the realizations she comes by, the reactions she has to any action that has occurred between the two points of time marked by her fourth-month journey into the making of knots.

This is the persistence of her desire: nothing occurs in her life but what she makes, and truthfully, what she makes rather poorly. She has turned an eye to the quality of what she makes, because, simply put, it is what she is capable of making, and nobody has the judgment on that.

Each year, when she arrives, she finds that the nets have fallen even further apart. This universal truth behind nets makes most of the other fishermen in the bay run out and buy new net, if not every year, then at least every other year. Because their nets are fresh and glisten smartly as they slide out of the water—and also due to the fishermen’s ingenuity in placement, effort, and experimentation—they actually catch sufficient fish to pay for the nets they discard nearly every year.

Mostly they burn their old nets in a pile down on the beach, and the smell of burning line has a certain acrid potency they might label success. Perhaps they stand around with the dwindling fire, poking a beach stick into the center of the plastic to twist the congealing fluid into a new shape. This, they think to themselves, was once something I used to sustain my life. They have a beer in one hand, their eyes squint, and their hips slant akimbo to the pebbles lining the beach.

Esther, on the other hand, makes knots. When she first started this job, which was to be thrilling and impractical (having begun as more of a daydream than something she and her business partners could imagine actually doing), they had no idea what constituted a mending knot. As their nets fell further and further in disarray that first summer—as they were hit by sharks and sea lions, or as they managed to catch and drag on the rocks near the shore—they became desperate and experimented with knots they felt sure would work, but never did. Finally, a last-timer took pity when she came across the bay for a visit, and showed Esther, Chris, and Lilah the very basic knot used for mending.

To successfully make this knot, Esther holds her hand underneath the mesh she’s trying to heal. The open end of the thread is pinched against the bottom vee of the mesh, and her pointing finger juts out to hold one loop of thread away from the net. This—so she can wrap the thread once around both sides of the mesh, and once around one side of the mesh, and then pull down. Granted, it seems very complicated, as do most systems when you consider how mathematics and images are the languages we’ve built to describe most intricate ritual, but there is a point sometimes to expressing in words the motions we make that may seem very complicated, but in the end, are very simple.

This is a simple knot, and Esther can perform it in three seconds, which is why she, Chris, and Lilah are rather undeterred when they find out that this simple knot often pulls out under pressure. In the water, a fish may strain against one of these mendings, and the strain might be sufficient to let it swim away, whereupon it will run off, if lucky, to a stream where it will spout DNA and then die. If you look at mends as you pull them into the boat, they are amusing things; clearly out of place in the order. Mostly they are too short or too long, and they twist the net into strange articulations and junctures. They create warp, as do all scars, and sometimes the warp is confusing enough for the fish to startle it into the net further down, but sometimes the warp pulls apart, and the fish often seem to know about this possibility. Maybe they don’t though, and simply give it a go.

In order to make the knot work and hold its strange place in the scheme, Esther and Chris experiment with different additions to keep it going. The second year, they add a granny knot to the end, then one to the beginning, before deploying the mending knot, which helps everything hold out against the strain. The next year, they get pots of glue and place a dab on each knot once it’s finished. This is the end of Chris’s experimentation, and she remains satisfied that at least one more summer has been purchased through endeavor. Lilah, on the other hand, was never interested in mending to start with, and so is satisfied, in general, by what solutions may be come by through looking the other way.

After this, there are other years, and a new knot added each time. Jesse, who started as crew and one of Chris’s daughters, comes back after five years and finds mends like viral outgrowths along the warp of ancient net that gets dragged out, time and summer again, for more knot-making, and less fishing, and yet again some knots.

Their skiff flips upside down for the third time, and everything is lost at the bottom of the cove until Jesse and Kelly dive and retrieve some of it. Esther adds a half-hitch to the one mesh side, and then a half-hitch to the other. Chris and Lilah stop fishing, and try to convince Esther to sell, but she refuses and Chris only speaks to her irregularly. Another half-hitch. Esther pays for her niece to go to college, but within three months, she gets kicked out due to meth use. Esther places another granny knot in the center of the ritual, then removes it, then tries it again. The outboard dies a horrible belching death, and so Esther buys another one but forgets to bolt it down and when a wave comes, it lifts it off the end and five-thousand dollars sinks to the ocean floor. She tries a clove hitch, but it makes no sense at all. The prices on fish drop too, and Esther decides she’s too old to have a child, even an adopted one. She ends with a double half-hitch and a double granny, and does away with the glue as a sign of weakness.

Jesse watches Esther covertly. Last year, Jesse’s knots were monitored and Esther told her when she was doing it wrong; Jesse could swear Esther changed her mind about knot morality even more frequently than once a summer. Jesse does not care about knots like Esther does; she recognizes this, and is only slightly convinced of her failing, because she is dreaming of new nets, because she wishes the mesh were wider than 4.5 inches across, because she sees the amount of fish they are probably letting go via warp. Jesse also sees the way Esther looks at the knots, and she won’t let Esther monitor her anymore.

Because Esther looks at the knots like the other fishermen look at melting line. Their faces get soft and gentle, wistful almost—the gentle blankness of their minds, not like empty slates, but like sieves in that exact moment before something more is poured through. They are so quiet, those knots; Esther starts with a granny, then a granny in the vee of the mesh, then a half-hitch, then the simple mending knot, then another half-hitch, then the stretch across the tear, another granny knot, another half-hitch, another mending-knot, another half-hitch, a second half-hitch, and finally a granny before Esther lifts up her scissors with her line-damaged hands, and snips the end of the thread.

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