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by Joaquin Sorolla

I wrote this poem for a novel I’m writing about love and war in Central America. It’s written in the voice and style of a 19th century poet about the ceaseless, ongoing struggles that have ravaged his land since before the Conquistadors. As they have been going on Ukraine since the Vikings plundered tribal villages, before the Mongols came and slaughtered all of them, before Hitler, before Putin.

This poem speaks to the ceaseless cycles of peace and plunder that haunt our histories and our hearts, but also to the spirit of the people who weather such storms. Although it will no doubt undergo further revisions before the novel is ready to hand over to my agent, I wanted to share it with you now, in honor of the brave spirit of the Ukrainian people who are weathering this storm today.

This Sea Within, Without

This sea that lies within, without, all things,
All bodies, minds, and soaring hearts and grasping hands,
Past, present, and evermore.
This ceaseless stirring, this Siren’s call, these froward thoughts
And listless rhythms that know no end.
This urgent quest.

This sea that it throws itself upon our shores
With grand bluster, heaving boulders and breaking cliffs,
Leaving in its wake a disaster of debris,
The detritus of society and small broken things,
A child’s bracelet, an empty bottle, shattered shells and battered lives,
Fallen faces like
Flies rummaging through abandoned seaweed.

This sea within, without, unbroken in its vastness,
Spreads out like a calm comforting blanket of blue, its lacy
Traces whispering secrets in our ears,
Seducing us with sleepless dreams as it
Reaches across the sand to wash our feet and sings its pleasure in the sun,
Its tender kisses everywhere,
Its mesmerizing music everywhere,
Calling children, and lovers young and old, to its shores,
To romp among its waves like playful porpoises,
Safe as sand.

And so it lures and soothes and laments,
Before it lashes out, breaking
Whole continents apart
Leaving all in ruin.

This Sea within, without,
Pouring across the centuries in
Endless rhythmic cycles of peace and plunder,
Plunder and peace,
Ever restless, relentless.

This sea within, without
Each heart, each nation, each age and eon.
We and sea and all that lies between,
Taking our pleasure where we may in warm, balmy breezes,
Finding our strength in broad strokes as we surf and swim,
Taking our lives into our hands as we resist
Its uprising roar
As it crashes down and drowns our dreams.

O drowning heart, O vale of tears
O lovers lost, O sons and daughters,
O detritus of raging storms,
Be not dismayed.
As ceaseless as the turmoil is, so is the spirit that rides upon it
And survives to rise again.

Savor the sun’s sweet kisses and the balmy breezes,
Hold them close, don’t let go.
Even when the broad drowning seas rise up and crash down,
Do not despair.
Tis the way of weather,
And of weathered hearts, and leathered minds,
And grasping hands, and the sons of man.

So we lay our hearts and histories
Upon such shores as storms do rage
And retreating bare all to see
Such luster still in the strong arms and stalwart hearts
Of souls long lost.

Where all that’s left of mighty ships’ splintered rails
And torn sails sink below and wait to rise
Once more. Once more.

By Deborah J. Brasket, 2022, from the novel This Sea Within

The poem is read by the protagonist of my novel on a plane heading toward a war-torn country in Central America in 1973. On the plane she’s been reading the history of Latin America starting with the conquistadors and the destruction of two major civilizations that had persisted for 3500 years until the Cortez arrived. The history continues with ongoing struggles of so many countries in Central America to become independent nations, and then to break the hold of one brutal dictator after another, each propped up by the United States after the Monroe Doctrine went into effect. The constant civil wars and guerrilla warfare in the region, and her own country’s involvement in that is disheartening, to say the least, to the young, idealistic woman.

But then she reads the poem of one of the most cherished poets from that region which speaks to this very condition of constant strife, and surprisingly, it heartens her.

I don’t know if it will hearten you as well, but I thought I’d offer it here in that spirit.