There are emotions that are universal, or nearly so. The paradox is that they feel personal and difficult to share.
Kelly Ledsinger shared this poem, entitled Offshore, at our last Open Mic, The Journey. What is most striking about it for me is the honesty and extreme openness of the expression. Some poets rant and rave and amplify their emotions, while others try to forge distance between themselves and their feelings. There is nothing wrong with either approach, but Ledsinger takes another path, uniquely and refreshingly present with her emotions, full of a poetic mindfulness that allows emotion to breathe. It is a brave poet that lays the details of her life before the audience. She paves the way for empathy by sharing first.
He rises early and packs his duffle with a weeks worth of underwear and denim. He never really sleeps much before his journey. He makes a thermos of coffee for the drive to the Gulf. It will help him stay awake on those long dark stretches of Texas road
She packs him snacks for his drive, fusses and worries that he hasn’t had enough sleep. She always worries about him falling asleep behind the wheel. She can picture the officer at her door and the widow’s sob on her lips. But they have a son still in college, a mortgage and retirement to fund. So he climbs in the old beat up truck he drives. He won’t leave a nice truck sitting for the Gulf winds, the sea and the sand to corrode. No use in throwing good money after bad he says. He packs his bible, his daily devotional, a small worn copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, Time magazine and a radio.
He likes to listen to NPR and classical music. He knows most of the people he works with will be listening to Fox News and country music. He knows he is different. It doesn’t matter much. He is of an age where what others think matters less. He is his own man as much as he can be without losing his job. He hates working on an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico. But he loves his wife of thirty-three years and their son. He is so proud of his son. He and his wife are having a rough patch right now. But they will weather it like they have everything else life has dealt them. The marriage is their lifeboat in a world of storms and they cling to it with the desperation of the drowning.
He arrives at the Heliport. Gets his duffle and secures his car. He looks around the waiting area as the other men arrive. He sees the young guy who is a vegetarian and who shares his bunk room with him. He’s alright he thinks and doesn’t mind his choice in politics or music. He wonders if the chef is going to make some of that caramelized condensed milk again. That was really good. Twelve hour plus days in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico on a rusty, corroding oil platform. Not much to think about for a week except keeping everything running, staying alive, fresh warm caramel and your wife’s voice on the phone when you call her at bedtime. They announce their helicopter is boarding he lifts his duffle, climbs up the steps of the helicopter. Finds a seat, straps himself in and says a prayer for leaving land.
Human beings have experienced separation at the mercy of the sea for millennia. Life requires that parents divide their time between making a living for their children and being present with those children, that explorers and innovators leave behind their homes and those who love them for a time in order to do what they must do. Life is a constant alternation between traveling and putting down roots. It is in planting roots and becoming separate from them that we find out who we are and what is important to us.
Offshore reminds me very much of a famous French song by Faure, called Les Berceaux, or The Cradles. You can watch a video of that song below, complete with translation. It’s amazing to think how little some things change, even as technology creates new experiences.