Does the Sea See Me?

from Pablo Neruda’s The Book of Questions, El Libro de las Preguntas.

“When I see the sea once more
will the sea have seen or not seen me?

Why do the waves ask me
the same questions I ask them?

And why do they strike the rock
with so much wasted passion?

Don’t they get tired of repeating
their declaration to the sand?”

Pablo Neruda, The Book of Questions

My daughter and her husband went to Tahiti a few weeks ago. They were celebrating their wedding anniversary. I was anxious about their trip as the Covid-19 Virus was at its peak there. They were both fully vaccinated, but even vaccinated people are contracting the virus. Thankfully, they are fine.

This was their first time in Tahiti. My daughter was good about keeping me in the loop by sending a daily photo or two of the tropical waters, so clear and warm. They stayed in a little hut at the end of a short pier. They walked down a few steps and they were in the water. One day, my daughter, Annette, sat on a chair with her feet in the water. For two hours, she watched two fish build their nest. They swam below, scooped up sand and gravel and swam upwards to deposit it in the nest. Two hours, it took them and my daughter sat there, mesmerized, watching them.

She said, “Afterwards, I didn’t want to wade in the water. I didn’t want to tread on anyone’s nest.”

She did go snorkeling with her husband, once. There are sharks in these waters and although there have been no recent attacks, Annette was a bit nervous. What might swim out from behind a reef? Regardless, she got into the spirit of what it was to be on this island. After her return to the States, we talked on the phone. In describing the impact of her trip…

“Mom,
I was the island
I was the water
I was the fish
I was the sky
I was the earth”

She said that she felt sensory overwhelm…that there were fish the colors of which she had no name. The whole energy of the island touched her in a way that she hadn’t expected and couldn’t explain. She cried a lot, she felt elated, she was in awe.
She said “There is a whole civilization under the sea. We have no idea.”

****
I told her “Now, you are an advocate for the ocean, one of its protectors.”

I sent her a copy of Rachel Carson’s book, The Sea Around Us. Here’s a quote from Carson’s book:

“Eventually man, too, found his way back to the sea. Standing on its shores, he must have looked out upon it with wonder and curiosity, compounded with an unconscious recognition of his lineage. He could not physically re-enter the ocean as the seals and whales had done. But over the centuries, with all the skill and ingenuity and reasoning powers of his mind, he has sought to explore and investigate even its most remote parts, so that he might re-enter it mentally and imaginatively.”

― Rachel Carson, The Sea Around Us

****
We do have a romance with the ocean. As Neruda queries whether or not the sea sees him, generally, humans seem to be ignorant as to what the ocean provides besides fish. We have neither fully realized nor protected the ocean’s necessary ecology for our planet earth. Humans continue to use the ocean as a dumpsite for our waste. And as we know, plastics and other non-biodegradable wastes are harming life under the sea. We are a very egocentric breed who considers that everything is here for our use or misuse. We lack gratitude and a sense of reciprocity. Perhaps, there is more environmental awareness being taught in our education system, but we’re slow to evolve our ways of using the earth.

“…The ocean produces over half of the world’s oxygen and absorbs 50 times more carbon dioxide than our atmosphere. Climate regulation: Covering 70 percent of the Earth’s surface, the ocean transports heat from the equator to the poles, regulating our climate and weather patterns…”

from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Pablo Neruda had his questions, you probably have yours and I certainly have my own. Why is it so difficult for humans to connect the dots of our existence on earth. This interdependency?

a quote from Thoreau

“I wish so to live ever as to derive my satisfactions and inspirations from the commonest events, every-day phenomena, so that my senses hourly perceive, my daily walk, the conversation of my neighbors, may inspire me, and I may dream of no heaven but that which lies about me.”  
Henry David Thoreau

For me, this quote symbolizes the independent spirit while recognizing the interdependency we have with our neighbors and the natural world. That said, the larger world is on our doorstep…through the ever-present media and its variable perspectives, we are bombarded with world events, political unrest, glaring social inequities, climate change, etc. It seems that while it is wise to be present with the commonest events and daily phenomena, we cannot bury our heads in wonder to the point where we ignore the outer chaos. What a helpless feeling though when we look at the state of human affairs.

Yesterday, I had the privilege of sitting outdoors with three wise women poets. We were celebrating a birthday of one of the women, eating quiche, rhubarb pie and banana bread. We discussed that helpless feeling that arises when we ask the question: How does anyone wed oppositions? I, myself, experience my own inner duality…how do I present as a unified whole with such a split? Within families, there are opposite viewpoints, family members polarized against one another. Within my community, there are examples of polarization, immobility, the inability to see the other’s perspective. When both sides claim to have the final truth, how do we meet in the middle? We see how people go to war over opposing ideologies. There is a faction of people (me included) that considers war to be an obsolete way to handle our differences…yet there is ongoing warfare.

I often wonder what my part is today…growing this woman self, growing her out of the past that deemed woman second class, quieted her, effectively erased her voice from history. Writing poetry gives voice to what needs to be acknowledged and furthers the writer’s process. Ideally, it offers something to the readers.

The Future
© by Christine O’Brien

She blazes colors…
If I am to be a vessel for change
I can no longer be invisible,
nor quiet.
I review my early writings
of a woman chained to
outworn, disrespected roles.
Her models were false impressions
of what a woman should be.
Disloyal to herself,
while surrendering her salvation
to him.

She is silent in the midst
of her degradation.
She follows the mores
of how she has learned a woman
“should be, should behave.”
She has depths to which
she hasn’t dared to descend.
She has forgotten her worth,
her right to equal partnering,
muffled her voice,
disguised her face and figure.
She is depressed.

Her fire has gone into hiding,
but it is not extinguished.
Eruptions are scary
when you think you are only
malleable, adaptive, accepting
yielding and penetrated.
What does a spiritual,
grounded activism look like?

Too many of my women friends,
and me too, don’t look beyond today
or tomorrow…
“What’s for dinner,
are my needs well-met
is my family safe,
for now?
Have we defended against the virus,
sufficiently?
Are our cupboards full?
Are the essential workers
able to provide for us, hold us up?
For how long? 
Are the borders secure and
the air space protected?
Do we realize our interdependence? 
Yet?”

For if my sisters and brothers around
the globe–China, Africa, the Balkan Islands,
Indian Reservations, my next door neighbor–
are suffering, thirsty or hungry. 
If my clouded leopard in Malaysia,
my Spirit Bear in British Columbia,
my Tundra Swan’s very existence
are threatened, then so am I!
If the earth’s respiratory forests
are ingraciously removed
will I have the breath to speak
of upcoming peril?
Wouldn’t I rather
see the salvation that comes from
humanity arising,
not only in America
but across this expanse of earth–
our common, ever-shrinking home?

What, dear woman, with inner fire,
are you waiting for?