Writing From the Void
One of our ongoing programs at Float On is our writing program, in which we occasionally give free floats to local and visiting writers in exchange for pieces centering around their experience. Below is a sampling of some of the poetry and prose we’ve received from our floating authors.
By Carly Jean
Invited to experience a salt water float last-minute, my answer is an easy yes. I have journeyed deep inside during Inipi (sweat lodge cermony) a handful of times, and those ceremonies push me a long way out of comfort before retrieving me. I feel more curious than fearful about sensory deprivation.
Naked and rinsed, I close the tank door behind me and slosh into the dimly lit pool. Crouching down and immersing myself slowly into the water, I recline and dip my head back last, feeling the water take hold of my hair and reverberate it in small waves. As soon as my whole body is settled in the pool, weightlessness reaches my consciousness and I feel relief. Air bubbles pop noisily out of my ears and warm, salty water backfills the canals. I reach over and turn the dim light completely out, easing myself into darkness. I try a couple of positions with my arms floating at my sides or overhead. Soon I am very comfortable and remind my neck to relax all the way, tipping my head back enough to immerse most of my face, the waterline encircling my snout and leaving just my nose and mouth exposed to the humid air.
The next thing I notice is the sound of my breathing. Along with my thudding heartbeat, it is quite loud to my senses now, and I think about how babies might hear their mother’s hearts and lungs just like this in utero. My thoughts skip around erratically like lightning bolts, and soon my mind tires of its own compulsivity. Raw emotions float up, now. Anxiety blights the mental and emotional landscape inside. Work stress intrudes unpleasantly, and so does an ensuing ego struggle of am I good enough, are all the problems my fault, will things ever get better, did I do everything wrong? Am I wrong? Eventually my preoccupations fall completely away and I realize with a great deal of relief that I am a solid state under all those tumultuous thoughts. Something about the supportive water and the rhythm of my heartbeat cuts through the choppy waves above to reveal that none of that nonsense is real, and I am whole and healthy underneath. I begin to lose a sense of time, and the blackness inside and outside of me merge into an expansive space of uncluttered peace.
I sink fully into this native calm state eventually, surrendering to the truth- I am whole and undisturbed. It is time to journey now.
Where am I? I open my mind’s eye, and see a late-winter garden with nothing growing in it. Is this my garden? -Yes-, I hear. I approach a raised bed and plunge my hands into the soil. Can I grow something here? -Yes, but you must clear the soil first.- I rummage around in the black, moist earth for a while. Soon, my hands collide with hard things and I start to pull them out of the bed and set them down on the ground beside. They are bones. Skulls, arm bones, leg bones, bony hands and feet. Dismembered beings that beg to be re-membered. I dig until there’s nothing left but soil, and collect the sad bones in my arms. I set them all down on a potting bench and begin to dust off the soil, revealing clean white surfaces beneath. I tell them I’m sorry they have all come apart, and start to cry. I weep because I don’t know how to put them back together correctly. My tears wash them the rest of the way clean and they begin to self-organize, to reassemble, to re-member. I stand back as they become partial- bodies, half-bodies, then eventually, there are several whole bodies there. The skeletons blink and fade and then become people dressed in clothes, wearing glasses, walking around together slowly. I realize they are my ancestors, my kin. I have never met any of them, but have waited a long time to be reunited. I am filled with grief and know that I must speak to each of them, must face them all. One by one, they approach me and look into my face with love. They whisper messages lighter and softer than summer wind. They reach out, they hold my hand. They have brought me gifts to remember them by, as I must let each one go to the great beyond forever. They need me to liberate them.
My maternal grandfather gives me a pocket watch. Maternal grandmother, a spatula. Paternal grandfather- a pocket knife and a hatchet, paternal grandmother, a shell or whalebone hair comb. My older brother gives me a harmonica and my little sister gives me a colorful lollipop. With each interaction, I weep with sadness and express my gratitude. I caress their faces, squeeze their hands, hug them. Each one whispers goodbye, and then wanders over the grassy hill to a door in the sky. They open their doors, enter the light, and then close the sky behind them. I cry hard and the rush of pressure into my ears and sinuses is very loud. So are my sobs, which echo in the float chamber and threaten to shake me out of my reverie. I sink back into the scene and realize it is time to face my parents and let them go. My psyche resists. Next time, maybe, I can face them. -No, it is time, and you can do it.- So I wait, and they come around. I have never seen their faces. My mother approaches me first and my sobs become uncontrollable. She is soft, beautiful and smaller than I would have predicted. She offers me a luminous red glass heart and we hold each other for a long time. -Let me go, please. I will never really be gone, you know.- I don’t want to let her go, but I do. She finds her door in the sky and the stars enfold her, closing the door behind her. I cry. My father approaches me last. -Child, you are so amazing and we will always be with you. With each breath, you honor your family, your heritage, your life. With each smile you salute us on the other side. Know that you are whole and keep these gifts close to you. Here is my gift to you.- My father has made me a lush cloak of ferns. He drapes it around me gently and places a crown of flowers onto my head. He holds my face, looks at me with utter love, and smiles. He turns and walks to the star-scattered horizon and opens the door to the sky. He enters his tomb and it closes perfectly around him. One last great wave of sorrow washes through me and I feel the fern cloak shake as I let it pass. My tears cascade down the cloak and call forth flowers; there, a nasturtium, there, a morning glory, there, a lilly. Tiny green frogs venture out of the fronds and let the moonlight wash over their smooth backs. Moths emerge and alight on flowers to drink nocturnal sweetness. I gather the gifts of my ancestors into my arms and breathe. The glass heart becomes a real heart, and it beams joy through my whole body, extending beyond me in a golden corona. At last, I am a Madonna pregnant with the miracle of my own life force, gifted with all the necessary tools for my survival, and even some sweetness and music, swaddled by a cloak of nature. I am free to hope for anything now, free to plant the garden soil that once was filled only with bones.