Underwater Psalm

by Kate Maxwell

Below, but not too far from breath 
          and sky, cloistered 
in the briny nave of ocean’s vast cathedral, 
warm-blooded beasts sleep 
          in arcs of vertical silence. 

Colossal monuments, 
mysterious as Salisbury’s standing stones
          —their huge heavy heads 
still, beneath lapping line of dome 
and sea where god’s sigh 

over waters deemed dominion 
yet served no shield from arrogance 
above. 		They sleep, 
          perchance to dream, 
one eye open, one half conscious 

to continued breath, too close teeth, 
vessel’s leak of earth’s black 
spills or sudden shot of spear 
          and sway 
below swells of shifting surface, 

unbroken for now as their semi-slumber, 
          legion of deistic dreamers, 
or smoothness of the ocean floor. 
Sad songs quiver through the deep
to moan the sacking 

          of their holy places 
from those who rock and reel above 
          in big and little boats, 
drill holes in subterranean seas,
cetacean’s spines, throw death

and plastic into coral gardens, 
make chase with harpoons and binoculars, 
          cast nets and nets and nets, 
          until sometimes 
these huge prophets sigh their last 

pondering if death, too, delivers 
mournful dreams.     We watch 
slow tide formations line the weeping 
shore with a waste to rival 
          our best destructions. 

But today, not too far from breath 
          and sky, in walls of water, 
          thick with tiny life 
and swimming things that glide 
or drift in glorious hush,
slicing aqua shadows or billowing 
through dancing seaweed,
          these blubber-built pillars 
pointed to forever in immaculate 
suspension, sleep 

where only muted psalms of sea, 
          the pulse and pound 
          of sonic prayer 
suffuse this liquid sanctuary. 
A faith I’d surely follow, 

if only I could fill my lungs 
with more than blight and bitterness, 
immerse my breath 
          and sink my heart 
into these songs of deep belief.


Kate Maxwell was raised on the red dust plains near Wee Waa, Australia. Now, a city dweller, her interests include film, wine, and sleeping. She’s been published and awarded in many Australian and International literary magazines. Her first poetry anthology, Never Good at Maths (IP Press) was published in 2021, and her second anthology (Ginninderra Press) will be forthcoming in 2023. She can be found at https://kateswritingplace.com/