Monday, September 20, 2010

Diving into the wreck

It was cold, colder than it had been on the night dive and the visibility was clouded by the silt from the bottom. There was no coral, not here, not this deep. Still, we followed the slope of the sea floor down, down and down. Twenty metres, twenty-two, twenty-three, the dive master swimming elegantly ahead, arms folded across his chest. We followed him like a trail of ungainly porpoises, kicking up sediment and getting into each other's way.

Twenty-six metres, almost the deepest I'd ever been and still nothing. We began to wonder if this was a futile undertaking. Our time was running out and we had seen nothing but the sand and a few secretive fish.

When the hull rose up from the grey green depths. I thought of ghosts, the myths of davy jones, the ship that was doomed to sail and keep sailing. And I thought of this poem.

We skirted the wreck of the ship carefully, watching the schools of fish swim lazily in and out of the deck.

Then I understood this poem, the understanding surfacing clearly and greenly in the depths of the sea while I swam past mirror eyed fish.


Diving Into the Wreck

First having read the book of myths,
and loaded the camera,
and checked the edge of the knife-blade,
I put on
the body-armor of black rubber
the absurd flippers

the grave and awkward mask.
I am having to do this
not like Cousteau with his
assiduous team
abroad the sun-flooded schooner
but here alone.
There is a ladder
The ladder is always there
hanging innocently
close to the side of the schooner.
We know what it is for,
we who have used it.
it's a piece of maritime floss
some sundry equipment.

I go down.
Rung after rung and still
the oxygen immerses me
the blue light
the clear atoms
of our human air.
I go down.
My flippers cripple me,
I crawl like an insect down the ladder
and there is no one
to tell me when the ocean
will begin.

First the air is blue and then
it is bluer and then green and then
black I am blacking out and yet
my mask is powerful
it pumps my blood with power
the sea is another story
the sea is not a question of power
I have to learn alone
to turn my body without force
in the deep element.

And now: it is easy to forget
what I came for
among so many who have always
lived here
swaying their crenellated fans
between the reefs
and besides
you breathe differently down here.

I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.
I stroke the beam of my lamp
slowly along the flank
of something more permanent
than fish or week

the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring
toward the sun
the evidence of damage
worn by salt and sway into this threadbare beauty
the ribs of the disaster
curving their assertion
among the tentative haunters.

This is the place.
and I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair
streams black, the merman in his armored body
We circle silently
about the wreck
we dive into the hold.
I am she: I am he
whose drowned face sleeps with open eyes
whose breasts still bear the stress
whose silver, copper, vermeil cargo lies
Obscurely inside barrels
half-wedged and left to rot
we are the half-destroyed instruments
that once held to a course
the water-eaten log
the fouled compass

We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to the scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
in which
our names do not appear.

--Adrienne Rich

Thursday, September 2, 2010

be thou my vision

I was reading parts of this blog and I'm roundly ashamed; we who are whole in body and have so much are so often ungrateful, discontented and bitter.

Dinner with some friends and we wound up solving some brain teaser type problems that were posed as part of an interview process. It came to me only after dinner, on my way home, that if only all problems in life were really like brain teaser, IQ type problems. Those can be figured out given time and ingenuity but... some of the problems I see out there in the world, problems of the heart, those don't give way to easy solutions.

This is one of my favourite verses in this hymn, a verse that is rarely sung; in fact, the only reason I've heard it is because I managed to get my hands on a Van Morrison cover of this hymn and he included it. It came to me that so many hymns I love are prayers - this one, be thou my vision - is really a prayer that Christ may be your all.


Be thou my breastplate, my sword for the fight;
be thou my whole armor, be thou my true might;
be thou my soul's shelter, be thou my strong tower:
O raise thou me heavenward, great Power of my power.


Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

Romans 11:33