Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Stubbornly Stuck

I open the Ziploc bag
shake it, clouding the ocean,
The contents stubbornly stuck,
like the large man
whose ashes filled four Ziploc bags.

The Marine Congregation of divers
accepts the others curious of this underwater ceremony.
Dad, still seeking an audience,
would have loved this moment.

The peaceful, clear waters of the Keys
filled with a murky mess
from 4 Ziploc bags,
a massive cloud of underwater smoke.

The sun shines from above,
where other family members 
are voluntarily secluded
from this underwater funeral.

Kneeling above the ocean floor
suspended in prayer
I try to let go.
hands clenched,
head bowed,
trying to be still,
but still a newbie.

Prayers said.
Reality realized.
Tears and sobbing,
the regulator slips.
My instructor
wordlessly gestures,
Like Hell, I think, I just shook Dad out of a Ziploc.
"Okay," I answer back with the hand signal.
I cry and swim, in a daze.

Another diver, concerned,

Daddy's little girl,
fatherless in this big ocean.
Daddy's little girl,
on her checkout dive.

I look around,
Dad's spirit is here.
His underwater church,
the place he knew God, 
even if he wouldn't admit it.
I feel my prayers answered.

A check out dive,
for me newly certified,
for Dad many years ago,
and for Dad again,
the ultimate check out dive.
We are connected in this dive,
as Dad wanted us to be.

An eel poking out of a crevice 
like the beginning of my healing
finally emerging from the dark shadows.
I swim off with my brother,
feeling the peaceful warming 
embrace of an underwater current.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Prose Version Written June 2012

Wordless Gestures
Reaching into his vest, Dave pulls out four large Ziploc bags, hands one to me, one to my brother John, one to his wife, and keeps one for himself. We gather in a circle, Dave gives the signal, and we all open our bags. Shaking the bag, I watch the contents slowly disperse into the ocean. Some of the contents are stubbornly stuck in the bottom, and I find myself struggling to empty the bag. My dad was a large man, and his remains from the four Ziploc bags cloud the once clear water of Winch Hole in the Keys. The dive club suspended just above the ocean floor is ceremonially huddled around the winch, with additional random divers joining the marine congregation in curiosity about this new underwater event. Even after his death, Dad is still seeking an audience. He would have loved this moment, I think. The absurdity of it all—my brother and I and two of Dad’s diver friends shaking these bags while disturbing the peaceful, clear waters of the Florida Keys.
Looking beyond the massive cloud of underwater smoke, I peer above to the white light shining from the sun and the bottom of the dive boat where my sister, niece and mom sit, voluntarily secluded from this underwater funeral. Looking back down, my thoughts return to my dad and I think, “He is dead. He has been reduced to a cloudy, murky mess.”
Returning to my sadness, I fall to just above the floor of the ocean, remembering my training I am now completing and realizing I must pray without letting my knees disturb the ocean floor. Floating on my knees, donned in scuba gear, I clench my hands together and bow my head in prayer, trying to say goodbye to my dad, trying to be still and relax in this moment of sadness.
Prayers said, reality realized, the regulator almost slips as I find myself sobbing in sadness and almost laughing in amusement at this moment of intense underwater emotion that I must control. What a spectacle this must be as I try to breathe and cry simultaneously.  Looking up, I see my ever-present instructor, Richard, beside me wordlessly gesturing, his face full of empathy, questioning, “Okay?”
I gesture back. “Okay,” I think, “Like Hell I’m okay; I just shook my dad out of a Ziploc bag.”
I swim and cry, swim and cry, trying to keep my mask on, my regulator in place, and my head up.
David, the scuba club president sees me swimming in sadness and signs, “Okay?”
“Okay,” I sign back, in reality wanting to flip him off for asking. “Whatever Dave—how can I be okay? My dad’s remains are spread throughout this water, and here I am Daddy’s little girl alone, fatherless in this big ocean.”
I think to myself, “What would Dad want his little girl to do?” He wouldn’t want me to be stubbornly stuck, hanging on to my last bit of him, wasting a precious dive on my tears and mourning. He would be proud of his little girl, finally after all this time, a certified diver honoring his dying wishes and becoming a scuba diver. Dad would want me relish in the moment,  follow my big brother, and enjoy the beauty of the ocean. He would want me to honor him in my check out dive, at the same dive site where he had his check out dive, and ultimately where he had just had his true ‘check out’ dive.”
I swim on for a few minutes and finish my check out dive with Richard. He shakes my hand while another diver takes a picture, recognizing that I am officially a certified diver after my 20 minutes with him on the last dive of my training. He gestures to my brother that we will now switch dive partners, so I swim off with my brother, and Richard swims off with his wife.
Released to my brother, no longer crying, I am comfortable following John through the water and begin to see the beauty that made this the place where Dad wanted his ashes spread. John and I swim together in peaceful silence. I follow him, and he points out all the beauty he sees: an eel poking its head out from under a crevice, a vibrant blanket of coral, a school or two of fish in an array of colors.


  1. What a powerful post - in poem and prose form - I will be thinking about your message all day - and not yoru typo - that came because you were deep in thought about your father and his message to us all. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Thanks. Celebrating beauty even in sadness.

  2. You made me cry today. What a powerful piece of poetry and prose! I believe that one should write prose as one would write poetry, all the best literary elements are the same. As a teacher and writer, I like the idea of exercise with writing. You continue to inspire me.

    1. Where did Atwell get that quote, "No tears for the writer. No tears for the reader."?

  3. The shift from poem to prose, although not intentional, was an interesting shift for me, as a reader. It was cool. I could feel my brain shift gears suddenly.
    Just an observation ..

    1. Yes, me too. It was a definite shift, not necessarily smooth. As I was reading the poetry that was much more visceral where as the prose fill in the blanks, obvsiously, a bit more. I'm trying to reflect on what I did as a reader that I would want to help my students with when making this shift.

  4. I loved the poem. I am enamored with free verse poetry, something about it just speaks to me.

  5. I am glad you posted this way. It was powerful.

  6. This is a beautiful piece of writing in poem or prose! Thank you!

  7. I was so moved by your poem! It took a bit to hit me what was going on and that was a good thing, because then the power of the moment hit me. I like how you repeated a bit before going into the prose. Helped me transition.

    1. I finished the transformation, so now there isn't that awkward transition. Thanks for commenting.

  8. The part about the eel at the end of the poem struck me. Thank you for sharing this. You captured such sadness, beauty, and love.

  9. Your writing definitely comes from your heart in both versions. Somehow I think the poem gets the emotions out in the open quicker and more thoroughly. Thank you for sharing them both.

    1. Thanks for your perspective. I think I might like the poem better, too. In spite of the labor of creating the other over several days at KMWP this summer.

  10. Interesting to read both versions - your emotions were rawer in the poem, as though time had concentrated the first bit of writing into its essence. Thank you for sharing these.

  11. This is such a fascinating experiment -- the relationship that's created between the two renditions of this story is so interesting. Though it may seem like poetry is a more compressed form that demands you focus on what's absolutely essential, that's really the quality of good prose too, isn't it? It makes me wonder how many writers revise/focus their prose by trying to translate it into poetry.

    Anyway, both of these are fantastic. Love the images in both; neat how you managed to retain some of the dialogue in the poem. Tremendously powerful too; what a profound, unique, moving experience. Memorable reading -- thank you.


Thanks for reading my writing and sharing your thoughts with me.