The sea came calling this week, in word and song. I listened, from my parched garden, dried out by September’s sun. Emily Dickinson began…

I Started Early – Took My Dog

I started Early - Took my Dog -
And visited the Sea -
The Mermaids in the Basement -
Came out to Look at me -

And Frigates - in the Upper Floor
Extended Hempen Hands -
Presuming Me to be a Mouse -
Aground - upon the Sands -

But no Man moved Me - till the Tide
Went past my simple Shoe -
And past my Apron - and my Belt-
And past my Boddice - too -

And made as He would eat me up -
As wholly as a Dew
Upon a Dandelion’s Sleeve -
And then - I started - too

And He - He followed - close behind -
I felt his Silver Heel
Upon my Ancle - Then My Shoes -
Would overflow with Pearl -

Until we met the Solid Town -
No One He seemed to know -
And bowing - with a Mighty look -
At me - The Sea withdrew -


“When he knew for certain only drowning men could see him, he said all men will be sailors then, until the sea shall free them.” (Leonard Cohen, “Suzanne”)

“These are the only genuine ideas; the ideas of the shipwrecked. All the rest is rhetoric, posturing, farce.” (José Ortega y Gasset).


And then there’s this, Carol Bialock’s poem “Breathing Underwater”…

I built my house by the sea.
Not on the sands, mind you.
Not on the shifting sand.
And I built it of rock.
A strong house.
By a strong sea.
And we got well acquainted, the sea and I.
Good neighbors.
Not that we spoke much.
We met in silences.
Respectful, keeping our distance,
But looking our thoughts across the fence of sand.
Always, the fence of sand our barrier;
always the sand between.

And then one day
(I still don’t know how it happened), but the sea came.
Without warning.
Without welcome, even.
Not sudden and swift, but sifting across the sand like wine.
Less like the flow of water than the flow of blood.
Slow, but coming.
Slow, but flowing like an open wound.
And I thought of flight and I thought of drowning and I thought of death.
And while I thought the sea crept higher, till it reached my door.

I knew, then, there was neither flight nor death nor drowning.
That when the sea comes calling you stop being good neighbors.
Well-acquainted, friendly-from-a-distance neighbors.
And you give your house for a coral castle,
and you learn to breathe underwater.



Edited by Christopher Wait & Leonora Craig Cohen


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