From the Editor

Turned Up Missing

April 2013

I love the phrase in film noir, “He turned up missing.” Or “She turned up missing.” It’s phenomenologically impossible.

And yet the Beatles turned up missing on American Idol recently. Challenged to cover famous Lennon/McCartney hits, contestants shrugged and said they’d never heard the songs before. Never? Not one tune from the entire Beatles catalog? Never in an elevator, or covered by a band in a bar, even in a garage? I won’t forget the look of fear in Idol judge Randy Jackson’s eyes. This whole vanishing sense of being here and (not) here. So strange, the beautiful things that get covered by the sands washed in by culture’s tide.

Here in Maine, I keep bumping into evidence there was a world before Star Wars, even as I walk along the waves. One of my favorite talismans is the fragments of brain and star coral I discover while walking on beaches here. Often they’re covered by sand, near breakwaters. If brain and star coral are not native to Maine, and do not naturally appear in latitudes north of Bermuda, how on earth did they get here? By Death Star?

Actually, the coral turns up (missing) here from a world far, far away, carried by curious spaceships that traveled exclusively on the surface of the sea. They navigated by the stars, these arcane craft, and when they sailed to our frigid ports they bore fragrant spices from the Caribbean that could not be transported below the water line because the brackish water in the bilges would ruin what was being carried.

Because the coffee and spice cargoes, including nutmeg, allspice, mace, cloves, cinnamon, tamarind, bay leaves, and dried chilies, needed to be stowed above the water line, the spaceship captains compensated by adding ballast along the keel to keep their ships upright. So while they were docked in exotic planets like Antigua and Nevis, they cut and threw live and dead brain and star coral into the bilges of their ships, tossing it overboard near the breakwaters of Maine ports upon arrival. I’ve found pieces of brain coral on Gooch’s Beach in Kennebunk, near the breakwater. I’ve also found coral at the mouth of the Saco River.

From phenomenological impossibility to devastating bookend or conversation piece (it sure beats a bleached starfish in your window). Or better still, look at it and marvel if you find a piece among the rocks and seaweed. What’s that Brian McKnight song again? Now I remember. Let It Be.