The ocean regulates and influences climate, produces 70 percent of earth’s oxygen, and approximately 94 percent of the world’s wildlife are found in the ocean. June 8 is World Oceans Day.
I’m inviting you to a poetry reading from my book, Buoyant (Bellowing Ark Press) 5:00 pm Pacific Time June 9 in celebration of the ocean waters and of diving. I’ll be reading together with Jacqueline Hill who will be reading poems on a variety of topics, also a Bellowing Ark Press author. If you’d like to attend, send me a note (contact details are on this page) and I will send you the link.
During the reading, you’ll encounter manta, whale shark, and shoals of fish. The reading will last one hour and will include music and underwater photos. I hope you can join.
I donate half the cost of the book to the 5 Gyres organization for anyone who purchases Buoyant directly from me. The 5 Gyres organization works to reduce plastics in the ocean by advocating for better regulation of plastic use and disposal, as well as conducting research to find viable solutions for reducing the plastic entering the oceans. If you would like to purchase, Buoyant, send me a private message and I can send you the book. (See contact information on this page.)
Even Dolphins Like the Blues
The water was cold—enough to make one’s head ache, but we were told dolphins there liked singing,
so, we swam inside the icy water singing with mouths closed, humming tunes loudly as we could, hoping for a visitation.
Then they came, dolphins whirling around us in circles as if on a rotating carousel, their bodies dipping
and bobbing, squeaking along with the tune. We spun and twirled with them, dancing together
as we could, dizzy with delight, until the chilly water motivated us to climb back aboard the boat.
When a dolphin neared the ship, a friend called out “Get your harmonica!” and you played a few riffs
from the blues. A dolphin wheeled from the water, tossed his body into a pinwheel, spinning flips
as long as the music continued. What do we know of the world around us, how life waits for us
to offer it our attention, rising to greet us from hidden wild places? What might our world become,
what joy embodied if we more often offered the music rising from our soul?
What others have said about Buoyant:
In Anna Citrino’s lyrical new poetry collection Buoyant, she guides us through a magical, alluring, ever-changing world of the sea and its denizens, many of whom she encounters on scuba dives at close range and with heart-stopping clarity and vision. The poems are sensual and full of wonder, “… break(ing) us open with surprise, with awe—/enough to allow us to grow humble, vulnerable/ enough that we could rise from the water/ wanting to learn how to live.” –Gail Entrekin, Editor, Canary (canarylitmag.org)
With vivid, precise and loving description, we are introduced to creatures we may or may not know, or perhaps will see now in a different light. – Magdalena Montagne, poet, author of Earth My Witness
In Buoyant, It is not only the eyes Anna appeals to but through the ear she brings the sounds of the sea. —Tom Postlewaite, Montessori educator and sailor
I recommend this book unreservedly to anyone who enjoys fine poetry or has interest in the rich life of the sea. —Michael L. Newell, author of Diddley-Bop-She-Bop, Making My Peace, and Meditation of an Old Man Standing on a Bridge.
Her scientific observations become mesmerizing meditations as she blends beginner’s mind with a mystic’s appetite for wonder. –Mary Quillin, poet
Anna Citrino carries the reader fluidly and vividly through coral gardens brilliant with living color. Her words take you on vibrant journeys. A poet diver who has plied ocean shoals slowly, with purpose to observe glorious biodiversity. –Dr. Martha Began Crawford, science educator and dive enthusiast
Discovering the Deeper Shades of Blue:How to Night Dive
Let go your idea of needing vivid sun or the 10,000 shades of transparent blue.
Embrace night’s serene satin, and slip in, flashlight in hand, to seek life absent during day.
Many divers will wave their torch wildly about, unable to focus the light they have, uncontrollably blasting your eyes as if to blind you without intending to. Move on.
Let go of certainty and greet the unexpected. You’ve changed your lens, are looking with different intention now.
Shine your light into hidden crevices and spot a parrot fish snoozing calmly inside a protective mucous bubble.
Go slowly. Gliding along a wall of flower coral stretching, and retracting their delicate tentacles. Hold your magnifying glass close to their daisy-bright bodies, and then to ghost shrimps’ gleaming copper eyes, their tiny segmented feet intently searching for food.
Skim past morays’ grinning faces ever peeking from their window holes, waiting for news of a meal. Notice others scurry from crevices, swerving between rocks, looking for better digs.
Take time to shine your light beneath ledges absorbing a Spanish dancer nudibranch’s salsa, flexing, bending, and swirling its foot-long scarlet skirt.
Cast your torch across the seafloor to spy an octopus scrambling to climb a coral-covered rock, skin mimicking its color and texture in an instant.
Your air tank nearly diminished, and safety stop complete, turn off your light and whirl your arm through the water, watching plankton trail your movement in spiraling beads of green phosphorescent glow.
Daylight holds one world, night another.
There are worlds within worlds, things you’ll never see if all you know is what daylight holds.
Drop into night’s starry sea. Let yourself be carried into a deeper blue.
There are things we love and look for. There are things we’re not ready to see or embrace though they are present, and there are those things hidden from our site that we only see when we look beneath the surface, willing to greet the unexpected, as the poem suggests. When diving at night, the diver typically moves slower, eyes focused on the band of light one’s torch illuminates. Though vision is limited to what can be seen in the frame of light a diver carries, diving into a night sea encourages a more focused, intimate observation of what might otherwise have been passed over. Similar to how stars are visible at night, things appear in a dark sea that can’t be seen at other times.
Everywhere we turn, disasters seem imminent. These are global concerns and our futures are woven together. There’s a place for mourning says author and Buddhist scholar, Joanna Macy, yet “what a time to be alive,” she exclaims in this video interview with her, “Climate Crisis as a Spiritual Path.” Be with your suffering. Ground it in gratitude, Macy suggests, so that when panic subsides you can recognize you’re held by life. Our greatest gift is our full presence to life. Suffering can open us to each other and help us find a shared strength in life, she explains.
When facing the uncertainty of diving in the dark, it’s beneficial to do as the poem suggests, and “greet the unexpected.” Divers have to trust the sea will continue to lift and carry them, even though they can’t see their way. How do we look at difficulty with different intention and find the resources and courage to dive into the dark? Catherine Lombard, on her blog post, Cultivating Radical Hope as Our Planet Collapses explores this article by ethicists David Schenck and Larry R. Churchill in Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, “Ethical Maxims for a Marginally Inhabitable Planet,” giving six ethical maxims for living forward into the future with the dangers we face and that can serve as a kind of light while swimming through a night sea of uncertainty:
Maxim 1: Work Hard to Grasp the Immensity. (…it is always difficult to accept bad news that has a finality to it…Some turns of events demand a change in one’s whole view of the world.) Maxim 2: Cultivate Radical Hope. (…[only] when one reaches a certain level of despair can new resources of hope emerge, in oneself and in the new world in which one finds oneself.) Maxim 3: Have a Line in the Sand (things you won’t do, modes of living you won’t embrace.) Maxim 4: Appreciate the Astonishing and Unique Opportunity. (Appreciate the opportunity you have to accompany humanity in this extraordinary transition and to be present to the earth and the biosphere at this time. Maxim 5: Train Your Body and Your Mind. (Learn skills for getting beyond the emotional and physiological limits of ego.) Maxim 6: Act for the Future Generations of All Species. (Speak for those without voice: the poor, the future generations, other species. Speak for the forests, the seas, the mountains.)
We view things newly and understand the world differently when swimming in a sea of circumstances where it’s difficult to see beyond the band of light directly before us and yet it’s still possible to feel free. As if an eel smiling from inside a rocky crevice or the beads of phosphorescence bubbling in the water’s surge, because of the challenges to vision night time brings, new insights and ways of responding to suffering can emerge from beneath the interior ledges of our selves. While humanity has not previously faced the kind of ecological collapse scientists indicate is coming in the decades ahead, we do have examples of how people have endured hardship with hope. In a recent Time magazine article. “Far From Home,” Afghan women now living in various parts of the world tell the story of what life is like for them, one year after the fall of Kabul. What especially struck me as I read the article is the women’s repeated expressions of determination to build a meaningful life though they have lost a world they knew and held dear. These women have endured serious ongoing hardship, yet when asked how she would describe herself in one word, one of the women interviewed, Batool Haidari says, “I am a warrior. Not because we are at war but because we are fighting to survive.” Another Afghan woman, Masouma Tajik says she is “unstoppable,” and Najiba Ebrahimi describes herself as “free.” Certainly, these women have cultivated radical hope, and continue to train their minds to grasp what has happened to them, as well as to respond to the opportunities they now have.
We can practice transformation now with every difficulty we experience in daily life and we are not alone in our effort. As Thich Nhat Hahn says in a practice called touching the earth, we have the energy of our ancestors in us, “wisdom transmitted from so many generations…I carry in me the life, the blood, the experiences, the wisdom, the happiness and the sorrow of all generations. The suffering and the elements that are to be transformed, I am practicing to transform. I opened my heart and my flesh and bones to receive the energy of insight, of love and of experiences transmitted to me by all my ancestors… ”
There are worlds within worlds, things you’ll never see if all you know is what daylight holds.
Drop into night’s starry sea. Let yourself be carried into a deeper blue.
Lying on the earth, your floor, or imaging yourself floating through the sea, you can prepare for transformation as you listen to Thich Nhat Hahn’s Touching the Earth practice, allowing yourself to be carried into a deeper blue.
The poem, “Discovering the Deeper Shades of Blue:How to Night Dive” is part of my newest book of poems, Buoyant, published by Bellowing Ark Press.
This house has been far out at sea all night, The woods crashing through darkness, the booming hills, Winds stampeding the fields under the window Floundering black astride and blinding wet –from “Wind,” Ted Hughes
Years ago I bicycled with friends up Ireland’s west coast. The day we biked from Galway to the landing where we were to catch the ferry that would take us to the Aran Islands was supposed to be the flattest terrain and easiest ride of all the days of our two week bike trip. But the rain that morning was visibly horizontal in the wind as we crouched beside benches at a Galway bus stop. We hoped the weather would ease up, but after a time, we realized that it wasn’t going to stop raining. Neither was the wind going to stop blowing. We were going to have to get on our bikes and ride despite the wind and rain if we wanted to catch the ferry to the Aran Islands. We got on our bikes and started peddling. My bike seat kept slipping down, making it challenging to pedal. My legs felt like weights. Nevertheless, I kept going, and arrived at the ferry take-off point and boarded the boat moments before it departed.
Aran Island is an ancient place with homes of stone where life was a challenging struggle with the elements. The beehive huts on the island made of stacked stones are thought to date to medieval times. Though their purpose isn’t entirely certain, they may have been built for religious pilgrims. How cold it must have felt in such dwellings! Heated homes, indoor toilets, running warm water–these are current day expectations, not how life was for humans for thousands upon thousands of years.
A trip up Ireland’s coast and to the Aran Islands gives a small insight into changes the world has experienced but going much further back in time, Earth has seen even far greater changes than the fragments of ruins of ancient cultures we see on the earth’s surface. The way we see the world now and the expectations for our lives is not as it always has been. There have been five mass extinctions in the earth’s history to date. It’s hard to imagine life different from what we know when we have only glimpses and fragments of other lives and ways of being but as much as we don’t always like change, it is part of the natural process of living beings and of our planet.
In his poem, “Wind” Hughes describes the effect of the wind on place where he sits, a description that fits the world’s present day situation. “The house,” he writes,
Rang like some fine green goblet in the note That any second would shatter it. Now deep In chairs, in front of the great fire, we grip Our hearts and cannot entertain book, thought,
Or each other. We watch the fire blazing, And feel the roots of the house move, but sit on, Seeing the window tremble to come in, Hearing the stones cry out under the horizons.
From the pandemic, to rising costs and economic challenges, to ongoing social inequities and oppression, to the effects of climate change, and the current war in Ukraine, people across the world are confronted with strong winds coming from many directions. Day to day we walk in the midst of great change. The day of Thich Nhat Hahn’s recent death, an enormous wind blew where I live. I sat for some time on a hay bale in my back yard and watched the redwoods sway in their roots and the oak trees shake. When I looked high above me, I noticed strands of cloud had formed crossroads in the sky. The sky, the trees, the very earth beneath me seemed to be saying change has arrived, life is different now.
The world is, indeed, shifting, and because there’s so much coming at people at this time, it’s difficult to cope, to absorb and then comprehend how to respond to events. Buddhist scholar Joanna Macy speaks about this time as the great unraveling. Of course what we’re experiencing is depressing and difficult, she asserts in this short film Climate Crisis as a Spiritual Path. It’s not only appropriate to feel grief over the losses and challenges we’re experiencing, it’s important to recognize that the grief comes from a place of love. “The anguish we feel is inevitable, normal, and even healthy, because how are we going to do to create out of the present disarray an exquisite life, sustaining life, respecting society unless we are ready to galvanize everything.” Pain, she explains is the other side of love, and now is the time to expand into our full humanity.
Movement toward new awareness and growth doesn’t necessarily occur in a linear direction, however. Numerous times I’ve thought I was on a path to finding an answer to a question or situation, that I then would be moving in a new direction, only to discover that I was no closer than before, or at least I didn’t appear to be any closer. Questions and dilemmas have a way of persisting. Sometimes it seems to me that perhaps the universe itself is an embodied question wandering around in cycles of birth and death eons long searching for the answer to its own existence.
Ireland’s Saint Brendan is known for his wandering. He set off from Dingle Bay in his thirty-six-foot curragh-like boat made of leather with fourteen (some sources say sixteen) other monks to explore the world in what is thought to be the years CE 512-530. While it’s difficult to tell what aspects of the tale of his journey are factual, or where he actually went, whether to Greenland, the Canary Islands, the Azores or elsewhere, his story is part of a literary genre in Ireland at the time of a hero’s journey to the other world. Their pilgrimage embodied their quest to find the “Earthly Paradise.” All quests require a great deal of faith and theirs was no different.
The legend of their journey describes commonplace encounters such as meeting a boy eating bread and milk that the boy shares with the monks, as well as coming upon an island of birds and an island of grapes. They encounter a variety of dangerous situations however, as when they land on what they think is an island but turns out to be the back of a whale, and when their leather boat is circled by threatening fish, and when blacksmiths throw slag at them as the monks pass by their island. Some of the monks encounters are particularly inexplicable such as drinking water from a well that makes them fall asleep, the appearance of a silver pillar wrapped in a net, and finding a man they took to be Judas Iscariot sitting on a rock in the sea.
The central thing that comes down to us through time regarding St. Brendan is the story of his journey. Not the story of his arrival, his paradise found. While they may be valuable or even necessary to undertake, journeys don’t necessarily bring solutions to situations, though they can provide new insights and perspective. Even after his seven year wandering and enduring the many unknowns and challenges, on his death bed, he told his sister, “I fear that I shall journey alone, that the way will be dark; I fear the unknown land, the presence of my King and the sentence of my judge.” External pilgrimage and internal pilgrimages are connected. Meeting uncertainty is never easy, even when you are experienced at encountering the unexpected. Even if you’ve sought it out. Like St. Brendan, we are forever heading into an unknown land.
Where do we turn when life’s challenges seem insufferable, when the longing for change and resolution isn’t found? How do we during such times expand further into our humanity? Viktor Frankl, who endured the Nazi death camps at Theresienstadt and Auschwitz (as well as two others) said, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” The way into the unknown and toward a new way of being may not be a direct path. It may take years of wandering in a wilderness, and the wandering may not finish when we want it to come to an end. It’s the journey, the seeking and the meaning we give to our exploration on our journey that matters.
While reaching toward a greater knowing and unfolding, we carry what we know and what we came from. A stream of water has its own character and appearance as it falls over rocks and meanders its way to the sea, carrying with it bits of sediment from the land it has touched. Streams of water do not run in straight lines. The struggle, the pressing forth into the wind and rain while waiting for change has something to teach us. In our search we can stretch beyond what we know, we meet and respond to others who, like us, are also searching. Direct action doesn’t necessarily bring about immediate solutions to dilemmas. As Rumi wrote,
“Things are such, that someone lifting a cup, or watching the rain, petting a dog,
or singing, just singing — could be doing as much for this universe as anyone.”
Sometimes things that seemingly have nothing to do with the challenge we face is what most needs attending to. Before leaving her bombed out home in Kiev, pianist Irina Maniukina played on her piano one last time. A choice such as this is a purposeful action that can bring us more into the fullness of our humanity that Macy speaks of.
We may need to go wandering like St. Brendan, set out on a long ride or walk, or maybe simply to sit on a couch and give attention to our dog. Change is upon us, but as Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee writes, “We always belonged to this mystery, and maybe we can begin to find our way back, even if it means following an almost hidden path, unrecognized by our rational selves. Despite the growing darkness and images of destruction, the gate to this garden is always open, and if we listen carefully, we may hear the many voices that still beckon us.” Change is Gonna Come