Poems for the Pandemic (2)

Poems I’ve felt accompanied by during these strange times. Today, it’s Breathing Underwater by Carol Bieleck.

I came across this poem years ago and it took my breath away. At the time life felt overwhelming, as though I was drowning with no resources for making sense of or surviving what was happening. The poem found me at just the right time, bringing a message about surrendering to events, not as a victim, but with a kind of contemplative, curious acceptance. I won’t pretend that was or continues to be a smooth process! I still rail against events and people that I feel flooded by, but this poem serves as a gentle reminder that there is life, and indeed castles beneath the waters. I hope you find it has something to say to you in these watery times.

I recently read it out loud to a friend going through her own ‘underwater’ experience, and she encouraged me to record myself, so I’m including an audio version for you to listen to if you fancy.

Breathing Underwater by Carol Bieleck

Breathing Underwater by Carol Bieleck

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
(and I still don’t know how it happened)
The sea came.
Without warning.

Without welcome even.
Not sudden and swift, but a shifting across the sand like wine,
less like the flow of water than the flow of blood.
Slow, but flowing like an open wound.
And I thought of flight, and I thought of drowning, and I thought of death.
But while I thought, the sea crept higher till it reached my door.
And I knew that 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 under water.

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