Transmuting: Inspired by Robin Coste Lewis’ poem Navel

Ink on paper

Close up of day 238

Robin Coste Lewis’ poem Navel came into my life by chance. By way of Twitter, by way of director Ava DuVernay, by way of Time magazine’s special issue The Art of Optimism. Navel poem opened an inspiration inside me, pulled at something inexplicable as only poetry has the ability to do.

Today’s piece barely scratches at the surface of the inspiration Navel gave me. Robin Coste Lewis created a world that births images and images that birth feeling and feeling that births a deep, human history. 

To analyze or try to explain what Navel makes me feel—how it captures the earthen vastness of something feminine, something human—is impossible. Instead, you must feel and inhabit the world Robin Coste Lewis created. A world, much like life, you must explore for yourself.

Robin Coste Lewis

We crawled out of her navel
one by one, then waited
until we were all here.
That lucid moment when
the last wet child learned to stand,
we began walking.
We walked slowly.
We took some time.
We took more than that.
When we began to grow
hungry, some offered to turn
themselves into animals.
Smiling, they said, Here, eat me.
Others turned into water, rivers, trees.
Some turned themselves to dirt
so we could walk a path. We crept
toward the edges, clawed and crawled to the top
of the world, and there we clung.
Instead of a mouth, a woman
spoke through a vibrant yellow
bill. Sometimes we visited the man
on the moon. Sometimes he let us
inside his house. Sometimes
his transparent hollow wife would dance.
Later, when people asked us,
Where did you come from?
We could only answer water.
A whole language comprised
of just one word. We walked
onto the water. We built houses
on the water. We had babies
on the water. We sewed clothes
made of water with needles made of ice.
The night so constant
changed us. The planets
taught us a vocabulary
without any alphabet.
The trees began to walk.
At night, the ocean glowed
green from underneath.
Our roofs were made of whale
ribs, our lamps were stone
that burned clear oil. And now
I’ve turned my face into this page
so we could sit here together again.