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Sheila Firth-Warlund

Sheila Firth-Warlund








Sheila Firth-Warlund writes, prays, plays, works wherever she finds herself. She tries to find herself wherever she is. As a chaplain, she appreciates finding herself in the midst of others on the same adventure. She has had poetry published in In Arms and in Living Room.


Incoming Tide


The mantra for Dan’s walking meditation goes like this: flotsam, jetsam, flotsam, jetsam. Breathe in “flot,” breathe out “sam,” breathe in “jet,” breathe out “sam.”

He starts in the frothy edge of incoming tide mindful of his breath, the in, the out, air humid in his nostrils, the back of his throat, his lungs. He starts aware of the sensation of leg stretching forward, foot stepping, heel softly striking, sinking into coarse sand which washes away beneath his weight.

His mind drifts in dull waves.

He brings his attention back to breathing.

When his mind meanders again, he brings his attention to the sound of the ebb, the flow of water. Then a strand of browning seaweed wraps around his left ankle. It tickles and scratches.

Dan stops walking. Looks down. Puts hands on hips. Looks skyward. Sighs.  He bends over, pulls the seaweed off with another sigh, flings it outward, watches seawind whip it back to a spot just above water’s reach. He trudges on, repeating a new mantra: Flotsam. Jetsam.


Dan, walking on the edge of ocean surf, sees a glint of green just in front of his left foot. He has been walking despondently. Feeling as though he is on the edge, the very edge, of some elusive yet essential self-discovery that will point out The Path he can follow, with assurance, for the remainder of his life.

Dan, walking on the edge of ocean surf, having given up his mantra, his “flotsam, jetsam,” having lost sight of the sea, the beach, the waves, having resorted to inwardly watching the familiar: his wife’s scornful exasperation, his daughter’s scornful eye-rolling (why does he command such scorn?), sees a glint of green, just in front of his left foot. He could cut himself on that glass! Dan reaches for it. Cries almost real tears when a cloud of foam and sand obscures it. When the water washes it from his grasp, the sharp edge beyond sight, beyond reach.


Tide is turning and Dan is almost back to where he began his morning meditation. He pauses at the rock outcropping he must navigate, pauses at the impediment and thinks, “No revelation. No direction. No further ahead.”

Dan turns to the stilling sea. Calm. It has washed away the jetsam of the last tide, and delivered flotsam, now jetsam. New jetsam. Flotsam. Jetsam.

He climbs the rocks that were semi-submerged when he passed this way earlier. Now a shallow pool has formed, a shallow pool of magnification. Minnows dart a choreographed dance; a spiny urchin, immobile, occupies a blackened rock; a starfish, lovely in its pink-tinged perfection, lifts a tentacle toward Dan. As though he is noticed, included.

On impulse, Dan stretches out on his belly, submerges his face, opens his eyes to a salty micro-world. Starfish waves a blessing. Minnows scatter in all directions. A glint of green glass sparkles just within reach.

Dan sinks his left hand delicately into water. Touches glass. And it is smooth as the sea that wore away its edges.


Sara cuts another hank of hair from the top of her scalp with her nail clippers. She sits with her feet on the rail of the porch, as though she were doing nothing less mundane than reading the newspaper while sipping coffee. Grasping another handful of hair with her left hand, and stretching her arm out its full length to pull the hair taut, Sara hacks again. Something satisfies her in the rasping sound of hair being severed. The sound is small. A whisper, really. But a whisper can command so much attention.

Sara knows the initial effect will be horrid. Security at the airport will look at her passport, at her again, at her hair, or rather lack of hair. Sara smiles. No, she will still have hair, just ugly hair. She lets another soft strand fly off in the wind. And if her hair is ugly, and if she doesn’t exactly match her passport picture, well, who confiscated her scissors in the first place? Airport security, of course. She’ll give them her most beguiling smile, a smile that will most definitely not match her passport photo. She smiles at the thought.

Watching her husband go off on his walk along the beach, Sara thinks to herself that she is ready for change. Dan had pleaded to come here, to the coast, and Sara had fought, pushing instead for a week in London, or Leeds, or Lisbon. She wasn’t really dedicated to cities whose names started with ‘L’, she was just dedicated to cities, and once she had named London, the rest slipped off her tongue. Now here, now in the quiet, with only the susurration of the surf and calls of sea birds, she hears a still voice. Well, not a voice, exactly, but a message. And not a message of madness, just an unsettling conviction that will not be denied, a necessity for action.

More hair is offered to the wind. A sacrifice, thinks Sara. A sacrifice.

The sacrifice is not her hair, her gorgeous hair, given to the wind.

This comes to Sara in a flash. This knowledge comes to her like the message Abraham received, knife in hand, as he was struggling with the voice he heard calling for the sacrifice of his precious Isaac. The message twists its way unexpectedly into, ‘No sacrifice.’

Sara lowers her left arm, twirls curls around her finger. No sacrifice. She puts down the clippers, rubs her right palm over the rough-cut stubble field at the front of her scalp.


She recalls Mooney’s hand, running through her hair; his other hand rubbing her thigh, her being pressed, hard, into the corner, grabbing for his arms and holding them out, away from her, her staring at him in disbelief. How could he think this, do this? Her boss. Her boss saying, “You’re going to knee me, aren’t you?” His turning away before she finished saying, “Yes.” That was the Christmas party.

He had not called. Had not apologized. Back at work on Monday, she had gone into his office, closed the door. Waited. Mooney had reached into his desk and pulled out a small jeweller’s box. Look at this, gold heart earrings with diamonds, cost a small fortune. For my wife. We’ve been married 27 years….I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have.

Sara asked why. Because he was attracted to her.

She could have backed him into a corner. Knife in hand, cut off his balls—metaphorically, of course. She didn’t. She extracted a never-again-with-anyone-else promise from him. Let him go. Forgave him. Not for being attracted, but for his actions.


No sacrifice. Sara knows. She rubs hair across her face, kisses it farewell before cutting again.

This is no sacrifice. This is giving up a part of herself that distracted her, distracted others, that misspoke. She is what she is, which is not what she appears to be.

She sees Dan lie on his stomach. Poke his head into a tidal pool. Is he trying to drown himself? She leans forward to watch. Releases a streamer of hair.

He lifts his head, watches the streamer fly by, water running from his hair, nose, chin. He raises a hand toward her. Sara waves in return.

Both Sara and Dan stand, and begin to walk toward one another.


"The Brain, within its Groove Runs evenly -- and true -- But let a Splinter swerve --" Emily Dickinson

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