Jun 21 2018

Denise Levertov – The Depths (Separation of Immigrant Families)

Published by at 8:29 am under Poetry

The Depths
by Denise Levertov

When the white fog burns off,
the abyss of everlasting light
is revealed. The last cobwebs
of fog in the
black fir trees are flakes
of white ash in the world’s hearth.

Cold of the sea is counterpart
to this great fire. Plunging
out of the burning cold of ocean
we enter an ocean of intense
noon. Sacred salt
sparkles on our bodies.

After mist has wrapped us again
in fine wool, may the taste of salt
recall to us the great depths about us.

— from The Jacob’s Ladder, by Denise Levertov

/ Image by Arathrim /

A reminder of light and the depths of the great ocean of life…


Like many of you, I have been preoccupied by the recent news of the forcible separation of children from their families in the US. I have felt for a long time that US policies toward immigration, legal and illegal, are racist and brutal. That has been true under both Democratic and Republican administrations. But it has taken an unconscionably cruel turn with the Trump administration’s forcible separation of children from their families, with no provision to reunite these traumatized families.

This is no less than institutionalized child abuse on a massive scale. The way we treat children and the vulnerable is a fundamental measure of our collective social morality. If you are a US citizen like me, that is a crime done in our name. And, if we are silent, it is done with our tacit approval.

There has been a partial sigh of relief that the outcry prompted an apparent reversal of the child separation policies. But while the news stories may begin to shift to other topics, be cautious in assuming that this latest offense is resolved.

My understanding is that forced family separations may still occur, just with a bureaucratic delay added. Also this latest change in government policy has a Trojan horse hidden within it: Many people don’t realize this, but crossing the border without legal documentation has at worst been classified as a misdemeanor offense in the US. This policy change now makes undocumented border crossing a felony. In other words, families desperately seeking asylum must first deal with the criminal justice system, because they have had to commit a major “crime” simply to seek safety.

Others have said it before me, but if we as a nation are concerned with immigration, than we should change our military and economic policies to not create immigrant crises. When an immigrant arrives, especially without formal documentation, it is always out of desperation. That always, always deserves a compassionate response. If that creates problems in other ways, then we accept those problems and deal with them in responsible, practical ways, as any decent society should.

With the current patterns of politics, economics, and climate change, immigrant issues and refugee crises are likely to remain major concerns in the world. If you are looking for more ways you can help, here are a few organizations doing courageous work in the world worth connecting to and contributing to.

Kids in Need of Defense (KIND)

Women’s Refugee Commission

Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project (ASAP)


may the taste of salt
recall to us the great depths about us.

Recommended Books: Denise Levertov

Denise Levertov: Selected Poems Poems of Denise Levertov: 1960-1967 Breathing the Water The Great Unknowing: Last Poems Candles in Babylon
More Books >>

Denise Levertov, Denise Levertov poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Denise Levertov

US (1923 – 1997) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic : Beat

More poetry by Denise Levertov

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Denise Levertov – The Depths (Separation of Immigrant Families)”

  1. Christineon 21 Jun 2018 at 12:54 pm

    Great piece Ivan! You are brave to voice your opinion on this matter. And I will do the same. Yes, unfortunately it seems our “government” is impotent, lacking the true power of the Heart, compassion, and is therefore going after the low hanging fruit – i.e. the “innocents” – the children, not the “criminals” who actually cause a problem for the rest of us. What amazes me is that our Congress cannot get rid of the “criminal” in office! We not only need a shift in paradigm, but a shift of power… Vote in the primary and shift out of the authoritarian politics! Personally I’d like to see the two party system dissolved, which causes such unnecessary polarization, which I believe Gov. John Kasich from Ohio would also like to see a dissolution of the two party system, and truly have “free” elections, not based on party affiliation. Right now everything is based on PARTY affiliation. I am unaffiliated, and was sent two ballots to vote by mail. I had to make a choice between the two parties!, not vote for which candidate I thought was best for each office. That does not make sense to me. The system is flawed that allows a man like Trump to be in a position of power, and us his pawns. The man who would be king. 🙂 But as we can see, the “emperor” has no clothes! And yet, the light and the dark exist together, don’t they…

  2. Yewtreeon 24 Jun 2018 at 4:02 pm

    Well said Ivan. The forced separation of children from their parents is evil, and so is the criminalisation of refugees and migrants.

    Beautiful Levertov poem.

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