"I am a man, upon the land,
And I am a silkie in the sea..."
-The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry
Child ballad #113
Back in the late 1960's, a friend and I were drinking in the
Enlisted Men's Club on the Navy base on
Forty years later, I still feel a supernatural presence when I think of them.
Which is why there is something both deeply moving and profoundly unsettling about David Reid-Marr's Sleeping Navy Seal. The installation was most recently to be seen in the Idyllwild Arts Faculty Show in the Parks Gallery last December.
The sleeping form of a Navy Seal, wrapped in seaweed, lies suspended over his bunk as if in a dream. His dream and ours, too, if we risk it. The tightly made sailor's bed betrays no impression of his body and the pillow soars above his head like a scudding cloud. The effect is compelling. We wonder at what the boy, perhaps so recently a fumbling adolescent, urgently trying to convince his date in the parking lot of the Dairy Queen, now become half-implacable sea creature, might be dreaming. Is it a sea dream or a land dream? Hell, can we even remember the salt world of coral blooms and shark teeth as well as he knows it now? We become impatient to walk softly away, lest he awake, see intruders, and turn furious again.
I know the inspiration for this piece. David's son, Adam, a
former student at the
As for me, I found myself wondering at the mystery of sleep.
And I don't know if David Reid-Marr might have been thinking of Shakespeare, too. After all, in his Henry IV, Part 2, Shakespeare's king, robbed of sleep by crushing responsibility, considers how this time of night must be for the simple deck hand.
How many thousand of
my poorest subjects
Are at this hour asleep! O sleep! O gentle sleep!...
Wilt thou upon the high and giddy mast
Seal up the ship-boy's eyes, and rock his brains
In cradle of the rude imperious surge,
And in the visitation of the winds,
Who take the ruffian billows by the top,
Curling their monstrous heads and hanging them
With deaf'ning clamour in the slippery clouds,
That with the hurly death itself awakes?
Canst thou, O partial sleep, give thy repose
To the wet sea-boy in an hour so rude...?
Forget Henry. I'm thinking of the ship-boy and the sleeping seal-man, dreaming of the land. Dreaming of the sea.