Water Bodies – A Poem by Jesse Sorrell

Water Bodies was written by Jesse Sorrell, recipient of Sy’s Fun:D.  Jesse’s work as a resident chaplain in palliative care at UNC continues into his second year now; we are humbled by both his work and poignant writing.

Water Bodies

by Jesse Sorrell

The parents of a purple, dying child
name me the midnight chaplain with the scar.
I travel the hospital as water,
an ocean of tears, spilling, baptizing
in a name of names, all things holy.
High tide carries us into morning.

The ocean curls around us this morning,
pulses of innocence, rhythm of child.
They notice my neck, pulsing gash. Your scar?
They wonder. I wander, always, baptizing
wordless stories of bodies and water.

My throat dries. I search, all ways, water.
We wade into the silver-gray morning.
Am I like the ancient ones, baptizing
life dim unto silence inside this child?
It must be obvious, I know. The scar,
a mouth on my neck, drinking death. Holy.

My eyes search their room for something holy,
like what swims and breathes in deep, dark waters.
Would I be here if it weren’t for the scar?
I could be other places this morning.
Lullabies swell and crest, washing the child
with hope and dream and would-be, baptizing.

Tidal memories wash me, baptizing
all I’ve held and tasted. All things holy.
I swim the blue recesses of my child
body. Dad at my side, we float. Water
buoys us with salt and dream. Morning
light swims me awake: eyes open, warm scar.

I catch their long stare, eyes tracing. My scar?
I tread water, even now, baptizing
children awake into rest, this mourning.
A fatherless chaplain praying holy
mystery into bodies of water.
The parents thrash water, lifting their child.

I leave them to orbit their tidal child,
swimming the ocean I carry. Water,
scarred ritual, body memory: holy.

Jesse SorrelA note from Jesse: Sy’s Fund helped me attend a writing workshop on the Oregon coast last spring with one of the most powerful authors I have ever read, Lidia Yuknavitch.  Lidia’s memoir Chronology of Water affirmed my lived experience and seized me with the truth that I needed to meet and write with her.  In our first private conversation at the workshop, near-speechless and awed, I remember fumbling something like, “I don’t know what it is that connects me to your life/book.”  For one, it isn’t just one thing because our lives have both differences and multiverse overlap.  Now I can articulate, in addition to both being very good swimmers, embodied trauma and loss generate our loving and creating.

Since the workshop, I have been taking online poetry courses through Corporal Writing with Lidia’s equally loving and powerful sister, Brigid.  Water Bodies is a poetic experiment in the form of a sestina that I wrote in Brigid’s class “Perceiving Form: Forming Perception.” Something deep within and beyond created words to current the meaning I make from being diagnosed with stage III melanoma two years ago, at age 28, while I was a resident chaplain in the same hospital where my dad died of cancer in 1999.  Water Bodies is a love story that helps me live with cancer loss as I remember and regenerate.  


I LOVE this Jesse! I read and reread each line absorbing your words and feeling the rhythm of your gentle rocking as if being buoyed about. What comes forth from the depths of our souls can, and often does surprise us. When I read pieces I wrote years ago I’m amazed at the emotions I still feel. And they’re not the same as they were at the time of writing. Your words here are timeless.

That was beautiful. Well done!! Brought good years and a heavy heart. I just wanted to say thank you for writing this beautiful poem.

Francesca Sebestyen
Diagnosed with Breast Cancer

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