In late 2008, I survived a traffic collision while stopped at a red light. I have no memory of that night, and spotty memories of my life before, though I know the accident—and traumatic brain injury I sustained—changed me and my writing process. When stuck, I used to be able to go for a walk or take a shower to clear my head; now, even a couple minutes away could mean losing a piece forever. I’ve learned that I need to stay in the chair of the poem until the words come back to me. To write, I must persevere in that abyss.
Scrolling downwards through computer scientist Neal Agarwal’s the Deep Sea website offers me solace in those moments. At first the dive revealing different animals and plant life that live at varying depths of the ocean is a gathering of names I find interesting—Wolf Eel, Chain Catshark, Terrible Claw Lobster—until I reach the bioluminescent life in the “Midnight Zone.” Where no sunlight reaches, I descend alongside the creatures who survive by their own light. It inspires me to know what can and might exist at those disappearing depths. The more time on the website, the more of what appears becomes familiar again—take for example the Sea Pen, gliding alone in currents 1,969 meters deep. Even deeper in the pressurized freeze, the Brittle Star anchors and regenerates its limbs. I feel an affinity for the Barreleye, a fish that still gathers light because of its transparent head. At 6,425 meters, Agarwal writes, “The deep sea can be a lonely place.” But I’ve seen evidence of life exist again and again, keeping me company in the drift.
—Janine Joseph, author of Decade of the Brain (Alice James Books, 2023)