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Healing rays

March 27, 2013

I’ve been thinking about this poem since we returned home from a four-month journey, which looped us from the U.S. mainland through the South Pacific, Australia, and Hawaii. But until I returned to the daily routine—and watched a friend suffering through a bitter divorce—I was unable to find a counterpoint to the silent, unearthly beauty of watching a quartet of manta rays soar out of the darkness and into the beams of a hundred flashlights.

The Dive
(for CB)

Jam rocks in her pockets
Hunch her back with the final hour of
silver-encased breath
twenty extra pounds
add twenty years of age
She can barely stand
pained by weight of
truculence, betrayal, separation
forced to jump

This girl is made to sink
thirty-four feet
straight through the stop zone
past the thermocline
She must take a breath to
avoid hitting cold rock bottom
but shallow gasps cause panic
widen her eyes
make her feel the weight of water
ocean of pressure

She realizes, with one quick jerk
all could be over

She realizes this is her choice
and breathes

Then they come
Flying through obsidian-black water that
sits heavily on her shoulders
as though parting gauze
Light bleaches smooth bellies
hides tarnished-silver backs in shadows until
they arc upward
roll head over long, thin
innocuous tail

Wings stretch 14 feet
tips fluttering slowly as one
propels toward her
She breathes
and ducks
resisting temptation to reach out in a
tactile reality check
smiling as through a solid water column
it buffets her with backwash
opens a mouth that could
swallow her whole

Instead it sucks in plankton
tiny specks of
memories, worries
every hateful word
broken into single syllables
individual letters
filtered into that tunnel-like mouth
energizing the gentle beast
powering its acrobatic dance

Time stops
Cold cannot penetrate
neoprene-thickened skin
She feels weightless
How will she explain?
“Mantas ate my heartache”
swam it out of this bay of despair
past the barrier reef of harsh years
let me fly
straight through the stop zone
break the night-calmed surface
lie back, float effortlessly
breathing deep and
counting infinite stars

—Julie Laing

Video filmed by Ocean Wings Hawaii; you can see a longer clip of this dive here. You can learn more about the specific mantas we saw and about the Big Island’s manta population in general at the Ocean Wings Hawaii website. And you can read more amazing poems this week at the dVerse Poets Pub.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. June 19, 2013 3:29 pm

    “She realizes this is her choice and breathes.. then they come flying through obsidian-black water…” oh I could just murmur every line; gorgeous and transformative and almost visible! I really hope your friend found healing in these images. I genuinely love this!


  2. March 28, 2013 1:47 am

    Wow, that was startling. Superbly crafted.

    Your technique was mesmerizing. As I saw it, you were switching views between your divorcing friend’s suicidal plunge and a diver’s descent only to open to reverie and absorption into the wonderous ray’s who transform her pain and give an evening of renewed vision. May she have many more to come!


  3. March 27, 2013 9:05 pm

    Agree with Tony – wonderful weaving of stories – both very poignant, and you bring up the universal and the beautiful and what transcends individual heartache. Thanks. k.


  4. March 27, 2013 6:55 pm

    To begin, it’s so good to have you back. I look forward to seeing how your adventure finds its way into your poetry.

    This poem and video–what to say, except that I got chills reading it. What a wondrous write. Thank you.


  5. March 27, 2013 5:10 pm

    This is incredible Julie~I love the two themes that you integrate into one. Great symbolism and images. So sorry about your friends hardship.


  6. March 27, 2013 2:48 pm

    The way you’ve woven these two disparate stories together is amazing. The juxtaposition of your joyous dive with manta rays and your friends separation and divorce has thrown up some strong images.


  7. March 27, 2013 2:42 pm

    wow….vivid and makes for a great metaphor…going through a divorce is no fun for sure….i like the bit of hope you give her though…she can make it…i know some that have…its just not easy…smiles…glad she has you….and good to see you back as well!!!! WOOHO!


  8. March 27, 2013 12:31 pm

    “Mantas ate my heartache”…love how you gave her a bit of weightlessness with this in the difficult situation she’s in … must be so cool to swim with the mantas…and welcome back…smiles



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