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Root Work Journal - Navigating the Ocean - Volume 1, Issue 2

Atlantic & Man Went Down 

Lena Camille Otalora




Lena Camille Otalora (she/her) is a young writer and multimedia artist currently based in Boston, MA. Born and bred in Miami, Fl, she developed a strong fixation with the ocean throughout her childhood --it became a source of amusement, awe, and unease alike. Eventually, the ocean’s enigmatic image crept its way into her adulthood, insisting itself a motif. As in life, so in art; Lena Camille’s work tends to focus on her generations-long relationship with the Atlantic ocean and the affairs of nature, emotion, and memory. She’s acquired a BA from Boston University, having studied Film & TV Production and Comparative Literature, and lovingly tends to her houseplants in her downtime. 

Both “Atlantic” and “Man Went Down” were first drafted during Lena’s time at Boston University. Lena’s mother having been a dancer who trained with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, the music and choreography of Ailey’s Revelations has always been a great source of inspiration to her. This is proven particularly true in the poem “Man Went Down,” which is a story of memory, home, and spiritual return that alludes to Revelations’ “Wade in the Water,” as well as the Spiritual that lends the dance piece its name. “Atlantic” is an intergenerational story of Black womxnhood and emotional encumbrance. Matriarchs in many Black cultures carry both great stature and great burden, thus informing and complicating the dialogue surrounding what it means to be a Black (Atlantic) womxn in the digital age. “Atlantic” then locates itself amongst the writer/speaker’s memories of visiting the ocean as a child and how those memories transformed into adulthood.



I felt this groaning,  

groaning inside of me  

lifting up in my ribs  

shimmying and rattling,  

crafting a xylophone of my  


turning over and punching  

at my chest  

wanting me to spill over, wanting  

to spill out  

if only my skin could howl 

along with my soul 

at least then, perhaps I could cry 

at least then, a chorus we’d become  

am I allowed but 

a moan? 

are wails reserved alone  

for the holy spirit?  

permit me a sadness 

all my own— 

if I am allowed to hold anything, let it be,  at least, my tears  

my mother’s  

my grandmother’s  

my grandmother, 

she swallowed hers whole 


for no one to see— 

the taste, like a stone,  


and hard and 

ever growing larger  

I always knew the world began and  

ended with her, my Cronus, 

sickle in hand, 

poseidon in her belly  

the salt, the salt wearing at her throat— 

tracking sand into the car, 

my toes curling, curling, curling, 

bringing the earth into me, feeling like I had  seen the world, 

my muscles forgetting to let go of the waves— 

I understand now, why 

she’d take me to the ocean  

I had to learn the taste 

Man Went Down  


“All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was.” ― Toni Morrison 

we waited so long, 

occupying ourselves with song, 

lulling ourselves, preparing these muscles for the waves— 

God’s-a gonna trouble the water! 

salty necks and baked shoulders 

in exchange for damp feet— 

Wade in the water 

up to my calves, up to my knees 

drudging ahead, 

the soles of my feet opening up over rough stones, 

making a Moses out of me 

God’s-a gonna trouble the water! 

Yemanjá’s womb 

sighing to Us, 

murmuring for me 

Wade in the water 

I bring my cowrie shells, nesting them in my hair, 

nesting them in my eyes, 

God’s-a gonna trouble the water! 

my eyes shine like alabaster in the sun, 

my whole body cloaked in pearly cloth, 

delicate in the brine of baptism 

Wade in the water 

surging to my knees,  

I learn how to fall 

as the tide 

Didn't my Lord deliver!

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