Going Down and Coming Back Up




Ladies and gentlemen, we start out twenty thousand leagues
below the sea; at least twenty thousand, perhaps
much more since no one
has ever taken an accurate reading
of just how deep it is possible for a man or woman to go.

But know this, ladies and gentlemen: every league
you travel below a certain depth
(one society has calculated and catalogued)
you descend alone and at your peril.
And know this also: what goes down
must come back up if it is to survive,
if the meaning of its journey is to see the light of day.

And so, ladies and gentlemen, we do no speak
of the descent for that is each man’s private affair;
his secrets, his anxiety, his sorrows, his soundings
of the depths he has plumbed are his alone to sing.
We speak rather of his ascent toward the light,
toward the surface where most of his living is done.
Or, rather, we let him speak of it for us, pretending
that what he says will free the bird of speech
from the cage of every mouth journeying
to its own song, gasping for air and light.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the murky depths exist
so that the light that penetrates them
might draw the explorer of his abyss upward
after he has learned the secrets of the deep.
And what he has to say, if anything, about the descent
will only be meaningful in light of the ascent,
the journey to the sun and even the moon and stars,
the love of a woman or man waiting for him on dry land,
the conversation comparing notes on respective journeys,
or the poem he will write, the songs he’ll compose
in his safe and sane solitude on the surface of things.

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