Day 14: “Belly Song”

Photo by Ray Collins

“Belly Song”


And I and I / must admit

that the sea in you

   has sung / to the sea / in me

and I and I / must admit

that the sea in me

  has fallen / in love

  with the sea in you

because you have made something

out of the sea  

that nearly swallowed you

And this poem

This poem

This poem / I give / to you.

This poem is a song / I sing / I sing / to you

from the bottom

   of the sea

     in my belly

This poem / is a song / about FEELINGS

about the Bone of feeling

about the Stone of feeling

  And the Feather of feeling


And now—in my 40th year

  I have come here

to this House of Feelings

to this Singing Sea

and I and I / must admit

that the sea in me

  has fallen / in love

with the sea in you

because the sea

that now sings / in you  

is the same sea

that nearly swallowed you—

  and me too.


Etheridge Knight was an African-American poet, born in 1931. He fought in the Korean war and was badly wounded. When he came home, he began to use drugs and was sent to prison for armed robbery.  He wrote: “I died in Korea from a shrapnel wound and narcotics resurrected me. I died in 1960 from a prison sentence and poetry brought me back to life.”


This morning, I woke with a little bit of dread, knowing the amount of work I wanted to get done. It involved a lot of cleaning, organizing, responding, reacting, writing, etc. It did not involve a lot of fun. I’m not going to lie; I was a little grouchy.

And then the sun was shining and the surf was pumping and Tim and Molly were packing up to go.  Come with us, they asked. I declined. Come on, Molly said, tugging on my hand. We’re “fish people,” remember? they said, so I went. It’s totally thrown me off my game and I’ve been way less productive than I wanted to be, but there is always tomorrow…

This week, we watched Fish People, a beautiful documentary on Netflix about people who love the sea: divers, swimmers, surfers and artists. Though old and young, male and female from around the world, they all shared a deep connection with the ocean. In the water, they found beauty, peace, wisdom, space, sustenance. In short, in the sea, they found themselves and they found themselves at home.

The Kirkpatricks relate. In times of stress, sadness, grief, worry, romance, celebration, joy, or boredom,  the five of us head to the shore, together, individually, or with friends. Sometimes, just seeing the water is enough, but other times, a full-immersion experience is necessary to heal our minds and rejuvenate our souls. The sand, the salt, the smell, the sensations, the silence, the swell, the soul of the sea.

And so this is a love poem for my family, and all the other “fish people” out there.

The sea in me will always love the sea in you.


P.S. In all honesty, this is not actually a love poem in the sense that I’ve used it. My interpretation is a classic case of cultural appropriation, or “fake news.” Knight wrote the poem to the Daytop Family program that helped him recover from drug addiction in 1970. I excerpted the first and last stanzas, but want to honor the integrity of the whole poem by offering you a link here. 



Leave a Comment

  1. Enjoying your Belly Song here in Baja listening to the music of waves rolling in,crashing, and receding. Your daily offerings have been such a gift, Ali. Sometime you and the family must come here to walk our lovely stretch of beach.


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