Coral Castles: The Remarkable Poetry of Carol Bialock

The Unvisited Lands

Go to those unvisited lands.
Have your passport ready.
Cross the frontier.

You won’t need baggage.
Test the soil.
Taste the water.

All you need is a little courage
a dash of daring

To go into those
unexplored vistas of your mind
to visit the too-virgin places in your heart.

I first learned of Carol’s poetry through Richard Rohr while I was watching a talk he gave about the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Her poem Breathing Underwater became the title and theme of one of his most famous books. Being someone who lived on the streets and struggled with addiction both in my own life and the lives of friends and family, Carol’s poem and Richard’s accompanying message spoke to my condition profoundly. I later used her poem in one of my sermons which eventually became a blog post about baptism and transformation in Christ. It is called Every Christian Should be a Pickle.

One of the people helping Carol publish her poetry read my blog post and asked me if I would write one specifically about her new upcoming book. Here we are, that’s what you’re reading. Before I give you a little glimpse of the real treat you’re in for by reading her book of poetry, I’d like to give you just a little bit of backstory. Carol has led a remarkable life and her poetry reflects the great wisdom she has acquired throughout it. But, even though she has obviously acquired great wisdom in her age, it appears she was gifted with it from the time of her youth.

Carol wrote her first draft of Breathing Underwater when she was only 15 years old. Can you imagine?! She wrote it in response to a moment of great suffering and, as often is the case, she was able to learn to breath underwater and have the crisis at hand transform her suffering into a masterful piece of poetry. When her mother died, she had no immediate family to speak of and she decided to become a nun with the Society of the Sacred Heart, of which she is still a member today.

As a nun, she began to serve in the city of Copiapo in Chile, primarily ministering to miners. During a time of severe political unrest in Chile a friend of Carol’s, Sheila Cassidy, had been held against her will and tortured for giving medical aid to a rebel leader. Sheila was an English doctor working in Chile before the coup d’état began. After she was released from prison she briefly joined Carol’s religious order and the two became friends.

Carol gave a copy of her poem Breathing Underwater to Sheila. It is a profound poem which speaks of the spiritual path through drowning. Perhaps it inspired her when she was writing a book about her experience being detained called Audacity to Believe. In it, she has this to say about suffering:

“As I write this it sounds rather negative and hard but I do not mean it to be so. Happiness grounded in reality is far deeper than that built upon fantasy, and suffering teaches one that happiness can catch a person unawares in the midst of deprivation and desolation. There is a certain stripping away of the externals which makes one more sensitive to joy as well as to sorrow.”

Carol has a book coming out on her 90th birthday. That’s June 28, 2019 – only a couple days away. Or maybe it was yesterday, depending when you read this. It’s a collection of over 100 other poems she has written, all of them brilliant. The collection is titled Coral Castles. One of my favourites is I Am of Those Who Go Down. It goes like this:

I am of those who go down
for wisdom.
Wisdom is won through descent.
And revelation in things of earth.

Air is a teacher,
fire and water are wise,
but earth is my mentor.
I have come down to learn,
a wise descent,
a sitting at the feet of every one and every thing.

I mean, this is powerful stuff. These are the words of one who has truly glimpsed the Truth. “I have learned to come down and sit at the feet”, not only of everyone, but everything. To embrace the earth as your mentor – not the magnificent blaze of the fire, or even the powerful ebb and flow of the ocean, but the humble clay. This is true wisdom. This is what the world needs. She goes on, in another poem, to say:

So everything is radiance
and everything is light.
the shining of the simple
waltzes through the night.

The brashness of the sunshine,
the dimple on the moon,
all the great dichotomies
sing a simple tune.

“Good” and “evil” disappear,
gone are “right” and “wrong,”
till at last we finally hear
that ostinato song:

“There’s nothing but the radiance,
there’s nothing but the bright,
and what we called the darkness
is waltzing with the light.”

Carol has an excellent ability to covey non dual thinking through her poetry. She is able to create in the reader’s mind a perfectly clear image of the impossible. Darkness dancing with light and breathing underwater are ways in which we can learn the path of wise descent. They are ways we can learn to to go into those unexplored vistas of our minds to visit the too-virgin places in our hearts. The path inward to the divine presence at the center of our being is a path of humility and acceptance. As Carol puts it in one of her other poems we can come home to being world and galaxy and universe. We only need go sane and realize we are one with all of creation.

But, I’ll leave you to read the rest of what her poetry can speak to your soul on your own. If you’re interested in buying her book, you can find it on Amazon starting June 28, 2019.

Here is a little bit about Carol in her own words


“I am not a traditional nun. In addition to being a Sister of the Society of the Sacred Heart, I became an ordained Sufi priest, participated in the Dances of Universal Peace, and attended the 1995 United Nations Women’s Conference in Bejiing. In 1968, I was sent to Chile, where I lived for seventeen years, teaching English and serving the miners of Copiapo. I fell in love with the people and the country. When the U.S. government helped overthrow the president and install a dictator, I renounced my U.S. citizenship and became a Chilean citizen. A lifelong activist, I have served in prisons and hospitals around the world, loving those most in need. At age eighty-nine, I now live in a retirement center in Atherton, California, and I continue to serve the poor, take classes, and write poetry.”

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