Friend Submerged – by Gabrielle Brand

Painting: “Keep Holding On”
Artist: Henry L. Jones
2019 – 16 x 20 inches – mixed media


Featured Composer’s Notes: Visiting a friend after a stroke is likened to two divers submerged in a place of “love and fluid, where survival depends on gesture”. I try to capture their trusting, reassuring dialogue with a wet, indistinct, echoic sound and a hint of contrapuntal movement.

Original Musical Composition created by Jeff Byers in response to “Friend Submerged.” All rights reserved, 2019


Friend Submerged

After her stroke, all droop and slack, her words
came out in a gurgle of drowning, as if she were under water.
Her grey head, barely visible above the hospital pillows,
tended to bob a bit, like a gull on the waves.
“You’re looking well,” I’d lie.
Then I’d lean in and kiss her moist forehead.
Her face would lopside into smile.

I’d sit by her bed and listen as best I could.
She’d mouth vowels like a fish, the puck of her
lips pulled down over the consonants.
Her voice would rise and fall, tide-like, but
I’d understand almost nothing.
Straining my ears, I’d search for familiar sounds,
buoys of sense, fog horns in a dark cove.
Once, I think, she admired my scarf.
She reached out for the aubergine silk
with her good arm, her blood-shot eye drawn to color.

Whenever I visited, I couldn’t help feeling
as if the two of us were scuba divers, floating like jellyfish,
thirty meters under the sea,
She’d try to speak, and I’d grab her hands and we’d submerge deeper,
far from the surface of conversation,
down, down, to the place where life is purely love and fluid,
where survival depends on gesture,
the tug of the hose, the fingers talking,
oxygen flowing, an unspoken trust.


Gabriella Brand’s short stories, poems, and essays have appeared in over fifty literary journals, including Room Magazine, The First Line, StepAway, The Citron Review, and several anthologies. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee. Gabriella divides her time between Connecticut, where she teaches foreign languages, and Quebec, where she volunteers with refugees and paddles her red canoe. She travels whenever she can, mostly on foot. Her website is: gabriellabrand.net