Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Water: Struggle, Pain, Rebirth

Water: Struggle, Pain, Rebirth

“Black bodies have always known struggle when it comes to water.”

If you’ve been to a poetry slam, you know the power of the performance. It must be heard, not just read.
to hear “Water” by these four artists.  I tried to transcribe it – here are some excerpts.   

More info below on ocean murder at sea during the Middle Passage.  But really, watch and listen….

 (Singing…) “Under the sea, under the sea…”

Wading in the water are the bones of our sons and daughters.
On high tide skeletons skate on soil.

Black bodies have always known struggle when it comes to water.

In a cemetery disguised as an oceanic playground
I was in the Middle Passage between ashes and holiness.
An oil spill of our family polluted the water.

I, my sister’s keeper, sacrificed my breath to keep her afloat.
She sank to the bottom to raise me
But something raised me
Palms on the soles of our feet
Ancestral ghosts wouldn’t allow the sea to swallow us whole -  again.

After Yemaya, African goddess of water, gave birth to the 14 arishas, her water breaking caused the great flood that created the ocean.
After my own mother’s water broke she named me Morgan.  It means “of the sea.”
And the water was where she hoped I’d learn to breathe.
But when my father told me the truth of my conception as they drowned themselves in liquor on homecoming night, it was then that I realized I was gifted with the name so I would never have to know what sinking felt like.

Black bodies paving ocean floors
Like drowning family trees
This is why waves taste like tears
This is why oceans are salty.

Black bodies have always known pain when it comes to water.

I press my ear to an abandoned skull, hear the thoughts of the woman who used to live inside it.
The struggle and the scream, “They tried to kill me.”
It was the sound of the ocean.  I was told it was a conch.  But they didn’t know.
Yamaya’s first gift to humans was a seashell in which our voice could always be heard,

A reminder that whether slave ships, firehoses, levies, tears, 

Black bodies have always known rebirth when it comes to water.

No bullets, no fists, no chains, no whips can hurt an ocean
We are children of the sea
Underwater is where we have learned to…..(big breath.)

“Up on the soil they work all day
Out in the sun they slave away
While we devotin’
Full time to floatin’
Under the sea.”

I wrote last week about Danni Washington who taught me of the lingering anger and pain from so many deaths at sea during the Atlantic Slave Trade.  Dear friend Anne Swallow Gillis sent me this performance by a team at a Youth Speaks poetry slam, “Brave New Voices.”  (

More research led me to this sculpture by Jason deCaires Taylor on the ocean floor off Grenada of 26 Black children holding hands underwater.   And to a review of a book, “Slavery at Sea” by Sowande’ Mustakeem that estimates 15% of slaves were thrown overboard alive or dead, maybe 1.5 million bodies and souls in the ocean graveyard.  

“Slavery was not a phenomenon experienced once captives disembarked, but rather, as Mustakeem suggests, slavery began in that liminal space at sea…Mustakeem challenges the notion that the plantation was first initiation into the world of chattel slavery. Viewed from within her daring paradigm, the experiences at sea constituted the first phase of enslavement…..She asks readers to understand the Middle passage from the standpoint of the men, women and children confined to the hull of leaking “waterlogged coffins.”

When it comes to water, let us learn of the struggle, share in the pain, and labor for the rebirth.
I write these ocean devotions every Wednesday here and at on Facebook.   Our Blue Theology Mission Station service trips for youth are cancelled this summer, but we still pray and work for the ocean here on Monterey Bay.

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