S. Swan reading “Delight”
Every time, I say, I am happy, 
I feel embarrassed, 
as if I didn’t have the right  
to enjoy my own life. 

I live in a furnace, 
I know that. 
How could I forget the pain 
I live in? 

But that’s just it! 
I have lost so so much 
that I appreciate  
so so much more 
what I still have. 

To be able to see 
the blue sky  
with a cloud, 
being caressed by sunlight, 
brings joy to my soul. 

Being able to cuddle up 
with my purring kitty cats. 

Being able to laugh 
in a conversation with a friend. 

Being able to move, 
walk and talk, 
read, write,  
and most of all,  

The point is, 
I say to myself, 
“You can’t feel happy  
when you’re feeling so much pain. 
You’re supposed to feel utterly depressed. 
You are in so much pain, 
you should be screaming!” 

But that’s just it. 
I am surrounded and tortured by flames. I am suffering so much already, 
that it would be a pity 
to not be able to take delight  
in the beauty of life. 

—S. Swan
S. Swan discussing ”Delight”

Oxman Cenote

After a year of lockdown, after getting our jabs, my husband and I pack our carry-on bags and fly
to Cancun. To swim in some of the Yucatan peninsula’s cenotes is more tempting to us than
strolling through museums, so we buy snorkels and seek out sinkholes which were sacred to the
Mayan people: one, a freshwater pool on the edge of the ocean; another, a cave where bats dart
barely above our heads; and an ancient river supported by mangroves, home to an elusive
alligator named Panchito. The deepest of all at nearly 150 feet is the Oxman cenote outside of the
pueblo magico of Valladolid. We descend 73 steps to the water of a collapsed cave, its walls lined with the impossibly long roots of trees that guard the upper edge of the cenote. At the water
level, chattering crowds of life-vested swimmers line up on a dock to grab the rope swing and
propel themselves in. Some are adept at holding on, others drop quickly as their grips slip.
Around the perimeter, lifelines of the trees dangle and dip into the cool blue water.

What are they reaching for?

The word is grounded—
one tree offers
one hundred roots

Mayans valued cenotes for rituals of sacrifice, where the otherworld was accessed as easily as
diving in and opening the eyes. Before arriving in Valladolid, before our first snorkel trip, we
spend ten days in Akumal where I paint on the beach. Each morning, while crews shovel
sargassum, the smelly seaweed piling up on the shore, I open my travel watercolor set and
unscrew the brush from the reservoir tube. I dip the tube into the sea rushing at my ankles, fill it
with salt water to convert the brackish pyramids of seaweed into wreaths. I don’t care for
elevating sargassum; I want to point out how we construct barriers to our sense of peace. I want
to capture the transient beauty of these blooms we earthbound tourists call a “natural disaster.”

Walking towards water—
my memory stops
at the first wave

I’m six and planted in the surf of a beach in the Florida Keys. My family is who-knows-where,
all there is before me is the gently rushing water, the warm sandbed, and a horizon that hints at
all possibilities.

Roots traverse soil
waves erode the sands—
we are nourished

This 58 year old body lines up behind giggling kids who push off from the rope-swing dock with
ease. Toes gripping the platform, I eye the rope guided by a middle-aged guy working for tips
from anyone with a pocket of spare centavos. I build up my nerve and notice that as I grab the
rope, the chattering din around me quiets down...oh, great. Let’s watch the old lady crash and
burn! I take a breath and swing as far as the rope lets me, turn slightly, and drop into the surface.
This win is marred by water rushing up my nose. I surface, snort, and hear the voices resume
their excited pace. This feat closes the afternoon. Next morning, my husband and I wake up early
enough to have Oxman cenote to ourselves. We dive in, float on our backs as a family of
swallows call to each other, making connections between their perches in the dangling roots.
Above our heads, nothing more miraculous than a day begins.

Nature is a moment
of endless beauty—
birdsong etches the clouds

—Melanie Alberts

Turning to Silence

It is a time of turning.
A time when
nothing is as it was,
despite our wishes for 
it to be otherwise.
We have no choice
but to let life unfold
as it will, hard as
it may seem
to bear and accept.

And so we turn
to each other
for comfort
in the knowledge
that we are not
in fact alone.
And we fall
into silence 
as words prove
to be inadequate.

But it is precisely 
the arms
of Silence
that can best hold 
our sorrow and pain
For Silence makes no demands
and is ever present for us,
ready to hold the heart
that has been hollowed 
out by the river of grief.

And so, we sit in silence
holding each other and being held.

—Laurie Winnette