Like many people around the world, I am fascinated by flying fish. Watching a group of flying fish propel themselves out of the water and remain airborne for as long as 45 seconds is a breathtaking experience. I’m also familiar with flying fish as food. I’ve enjoyed the tiny, bright orange eggs as a topping for sushi and used the dried flesh for high-quality soup stock.
But flying fish secured a special place in my heart when I read a poem by the American poet Carl Sandburg called Flying Fish. It’s a short poem, and ends like this:
Child of water, child of air, fin thing and wing thing . . . I have lived in many half-worlds myself . . . and so I know you.
Since I had been born and raised in the “half-world” between two very different cultures, this poem seemed to describe me. For a while I adopted the flying fish as my avatar. Over and over I painted etegami of flying fish and accompanied the art with the lines from Sandburg’s poem. These etegami attracted attention from friends and strangers who also felt their lives were reflected in this combination of image and words. Over the years, I found many words to which I felt strongly connected. But in my heart, no image ever quite replaced that of the flying fish.
It became time for my children to leave the country they had lived in all their lives to continue their education in the unfamiliar country of which they were citizens. I had done the same when I was their age and I knew the struggles they would experience.
I am not comfortable with hugs, kisses, tears and other physical displays of sentiment. But the year after my youngest child left home, I expressed my heart by painting a special Valentine’s Day etegami. The image showed a contented-faced flying fish soaring through the air with its fins widely spread. Below the fish, near the bottom edge of the card, I painted hearts of various sizes. These hearts were connected by criss-crossed lines that formed a long safety net. Alongside this image I wrote the words, “If your wings ever fail you, I will be here to catch you.”
After all these years, this etegami remains one of my favorites. You can see it on my Instagram (dosankodebbie). It reminds me of the love of my parents, who sent me across the sea to continue my education in a land that was strange to me. And it tries to convey to my own children, half-worlders themselves, the love with which I sent them off, decades later, across that same sea. (Deborah Davidson)