• Gabrielle Poli

Salt(water) & Light

Have you ever stood before the sea and felt your lungs expand?


Or read a poem that caught your breath? As poet Andrea Gibson writes, “we all have different reasons for forgetting to breathe. It’s no surprise that the Latin root of the word “spirit” is breath. Emotions can quite literally knock the wind out of us. We inhale with inspiration, we exhale with relief. We breathe to steady ourselves, to smell the dirt after rain, to survive.

I’ve always had trouble explaining exactly what draws me to the ocean. My midwestern soul has quite viscerally tugged me seaward my entire life. There is just something about saltwater that envelops my entire being. The smell, the feel, the taste. The practice of writing poetry left me with the strange, inexplicable conclusion that poems come from somewhere outside of me. And when they land, they land with a thud somewhere in space within my lungs. Could this be the soul? Is the soul contained within the chest? Where does it end? Is it like a cloud surrounding my body? Stemming from the depths of my diaphragm? Lungs to the living world. Is this what we speak of when we discuss the divine? When I look up at Cadillac mountain, I feel it in my lungs. When I run my fingers through the Huron River, I feel it in my lungs. When I read about Ross Gay’s fig tree on 9th and Christian Street, I feel it in my lungs. This is the experience that I call God.


Our breath is not just connected to the ocean on a spiritual level, but also on a chemical and biological level. Our tears, our sweat, our blood plasma are salty. According to the Schmidt Ocean Institute, “half of the oxygen available to us has been produced by phytoplankton – this means that every other breath comes from microscopic organisms in the ocean.”


Genesis 1:20 "And God said, 'Let the water teem with living creatures...'"


Creatures full of life and breath.


The tidepool embodies this so well. In one small pool we can see a dozen forms of life: crabs, a nudibranch, a blood star, a whelk, a cluster of barnacles. Tomorrow you may find an urchin or an anemone.


The ocean is filled with a myriad of living, symbiotic ecosystems. Creation is not just something that happened before 4000 B.C. Creation is a constant, ongoing unfolding, right before our eyes. And as we breathe in the salty air, may we remember that we are a part of creation too.