On Water as a Metaphor for Death
Wed Jun 27 2012 | BY Eli Kent
Playwright Eli Kent on water, death, Black Confetti and jet skiing monkeys.
(deep wild rivery water that is, not water in a glass or from a
tap, or in the middle of a parched desert providing much needed
hydration and therefore representing something else entirely, i.e.
hope, salvation or perhaps purification, rough oceany water is what
I'm talking about, with a wide horizon and a bottom that you can't
see and a dark dishonest green hue, that kind of water)
I once witnessed a shag dive underneath the waves in Wellington
Harbour and never come back up.
I had just finished my shift as a dishy at One Red Dog, and I
was sitting on the edge of the wharf, smelling like a sink and
eating a slice of complimentary pizza, looking out at this shag as
it hovered above the water. It was a rough day, the waves were
crashing at the giant wooden pillars below me and this shag was
twenty feet away if that, hovering, gliding maybe a foot above the
water. Resting on the waves then taking off for a few seconds then
diving again. There was something sort of half hearted about it. No
swooping or dramatic plunges. Just a gentle kind of dipping in and
out, like a surfer ducking under wave after inadequate wave.
And then it was gone. Just like that. The sea gulped it up and
it never resurfaced. I watched for a while but nothing. And even
though I know, or have since been informed, that shags can travel
surprisingly large distances under water, I still think about it.
It sticks in my mind.
I've always been afraid of the ocean. Of lakes. Of rivers. I
used to think whenever a cloud passed over me, that the shadow it
made on the surface of the water was actually a giant squid or
taniwha rising up towards me, ominously, from below. I hated the
feeling, still do, of all that space beneath me.
I am, after all, a monkey like you. And deep water,
historically, is the place where predators such as aligators,
crocodiles, piranhas and sharks slip stealthily about their
sinister business like lightsabers through warm camembert, while
monkeys like us, with our sausage arms and lack of gills have
always been, quite literally, out of our depth.
So I could be forgiven (should I be though?) for kicking off
this writer's note with a title as self consciously pretentious as
"On Water as a Metaphor For Death". And there was a time probably,
somewhere in the writing of Black Confetti when I did see it that
way. But now I'm not so sure, and here's why:
Monkeys don't jet ski.*
That is to say: People jet ski. And as soon as I tried to
picture people riding jet skis (which let's face it are more or
less the segways of the aquatic world) around on death, zipping
around like idiots on the face of death, the metaphor kind of fell
flat. Here's how I see it now:
I'll let the ocean represent fear. Anticipation maybe. The
unknown. I'll leave the sharks and the giant jelly fish to
represent death, that's what they're there for. I'll let the ocean
Because hey when you jump from the end of a wharf, not knowing
how cold the water might be, or what may lurk beneath the surface,
suspended for a brief moment in that joyfully agonizing place
between letting go and holding on (like my shag, hovering,
scratching at the surface with the tips of its wings, about to take
that plunge, about to be consumed by an unfathomable bigness) I
challenge you to feel more frighteningly alive, more proud of your
own mortality, more breathtakingly conscious of your shaky, shaky
*There may be a clip somewhere on Youtube that can refute