Night swimming

Image credit: Let Grief Carry You to Another Shore by Eddy Sara, used by kind permission of the artist.

This is a poem that surprised me. They often do. But this one especially.

Each of us has exiles - places within that we shun, doors we're afraid to open, pain we're afraid to embrace. One of my exiles is what I call the black hole.

It's a portal of grief and pain, and it's been around since I was young. I remember this place scaring me as a child, and not having words to describe it or how it overwhelmed me. As an adult, I've yearned to welcome it.

One day I felt this place not as a black hole but as an ocean into which I could dive. And so I dove. What I found was not pain but a love that held the pain, a luminous enfolding that held, understood, and loved every part of me. I've tried to put this experience into words.

This poem repeats a like from a Rilke poem, Let This Darkness Be a Bell Tower: Quiet friend who has come so far. You can watch this gorgeous poetry film where Rilke's poem is read by Joanna Macy, one of his translators.

Here's Rilke's poem:

Let This Darkness Be a Bell Tower

Quiet friend who has come so far,

feel how your breathing makes more space around you.
Let this darkness be a bell tower
and you the bell. As you ring,

what batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine.

In this uncontainable night,
be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,
the meaning discovered there.

And if the world has ceased to hear you,
say to the silent earth: I flow.
To the rushing water, speak: I am.

Sonnets to Orpheus II, 29, written by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Joanna Macy

And my own:

Night Swimming, with a line from Rilke

Quiet friend who has come so far,
what is this grief that sits low, cradled
in your belly? What is this band of pain
that squeezes tight around your heart?
You know it's texture – the heat, the hurt,
the endless sea where you fall, and fall.

I'm so afraid to fall. If I fall into
your vastness, I may never escape
this hole that grows until it covers
everything I am, swallowing me
until I'm nothing but empty hurting pain.

Quiet friend who has come so far,
you ask everything of me to surrender
to your particular grace, to the mercy
that arrives, not with lightness,
but with a fog so thick that it's hard
to see what is fog, and what is me.

Quiet friend who has come so far,
I want to dive into your darkness.
I want to float upon your waters
and go down and down until my tears
become the ocean that buoys me.
All water floats. All water flows.
All water holds me when I embrace
my fear of drowning, when I soften
what I think is true and let go
of trying to swim.

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