Syllables. They tumble from her mouth into his.
They didn’t complete each other’s sentences, they ate them.
She would chew “con,” he “crete.” She “white,” he “washed.”
He would swallow “be,” she would shit “low.”
To fall means climbing—knowing
it could be your last. The rough texture
of their forms curve and complement. He is closing in
on her. Not a walker’s imprint—
a stomper’s. Her high heels cast shadows. Entangled
in one another, covered
in sand under a too bright sun.
A bearded man plays
a harp. Window glass protects viewers
from themselves. Almost
lovers in the shadows, it is time
for us to part. The ocean is out of control.
Syllables smash. I am going
to reinvent you.
This act is not visual. Life will go
out of focus, or
the tree could be dead.
I remember realizing I could swim but not knowing when it happened. Believe
my father taught me. You’ll drag
your wasted body from the water. Flop
onto the dock like a caught fish.
As soon as you can stand, you’ll
jump back in. I remember my cousin Judy
getting me drunk the first time (on Rolling Rock)
when I was 14. And you’ll swim
across channels, swallow salt water,
even seaweed, and your cravings will shift.
I remember almost losing it
for 90 minutes—a steel blue white-capped lurch
up slap down—don’t take your eyes off
the horizon for even a second. Syllables
smash against the white-washed.
I remember puking
on the steps to Saint Patrick’s
Catholic Church in Kokomo
on Easter Sunday when I was 8.
The ocean is everywhere
in her mind. Against the white-washed concrete.
I remember telling my father
I’m one too.
But you’ll keep jumping
into the drink till you go down
or find a squeaky board to use
as a balance beam.
beyond that bare tree
will become the thing. Syllables smash
against the white-washed concrete floor. A box
unfolding, I get vertigo even before I begin.
In the beginning, there was no lighthouse. Everything was light.
In the beginning, ships sank.
In the beginning, climbing was optional.
I feared the word undertow before one knocked me off balance.
But I hit the barrier between breathing and drowning in a Holiday Inn pool.
Jumped off the State Beach lifeguard stand under fire
works, shouting “The ocean is dying.”
The white-washed concrete floor base. In the beginning,
language rescued us. A keeper was a keeper.
In the beginning, we had to learn the names of each place
before we could forget them. In the beginning,
there was no before. Its beauty—its ruin. Syllables
smash against the white-washed concrete
floor base below. Now all I can hear
is the sound of someone else’s ocean
in a conch shell I found buried
beneath a shack,
destroyed by fire. It was no accident. The day my father died,
I could not recognize my own name.