Overboard

Slow-Swinging Sea
He stirs as I tiptoe past. It was the quietest of midnight bathroom visits, but sensing proximity, he surfaces. The butterfly nightlight gilds the unfurling comma of his body. He mumbles and I bend down close. Is this just a ripple as he passes beneath or is it a call up to his divemaster in the waking world?

“I had a nightmare.” A moan chokes the almost-whisper, tears bubble under the almost-plea. He asks still sometimes. More frequently now, he turns into himself and finds uneasy comfort in his approaching PCS.

He reaches for me from the small bed we’ve tucked into a nook in my room. For one night, this night, he is here. I must remember what I so easily forget: Tonight is the only night.

The only guarantee is this.

When does it go? Does the wind change, do we get any warning at all? The story has its own arc and rarely does it show mercy to the players.

Our neighbor died last week. Every day, he walked his goofy dog named Mulligan. Every day, he beamed out a smile. So many of us here lock our gazes on the ground as we stride headlong across the face of the day, but he spared a moment for a hello.

We rode the bus together to the metro in the mornings. This summer, along with his tattooed son, intermittent daughter-in-law, and 5-year-old grandson, he went camping in Minnesota. We rode together then too, taking bus to metro, the clan lugging duffel bags and airline tickets. He came back with sunburned cheeks.

The tattooed son walks Mulligan now. He smiles and says hello just like his dad did. Mulligan wags and sniffs and strains at his leash, doing the same.

In the great green room, there was a telephone, and a red balloon.

When was the last time we read aloud the book we used to know by heart? Who can call up the final Sweet Baby James?

Tonight is the only night.

Tomorrow, my boy will sleep in another place. Behind a closed door, in a dorm room, alongside his troubled lover. He will rest on the shore of the cove he’s found following his own songlines. He’ll plunge into caves that crack open in his private sea floor. He’ll battle the Leviathan that has fed on his leaked blood and whispers.

I sit down on the carpet next to him. Our dog is curled into a ball on a tattered wool blanket on the other side of me. She is a soft pulse, a shuddering exhale. I stroke my son’s hair, its tangled gold, its damp heat. He sighs. Then he touches my arm and pulls it down across his middle. Turning, he tucks me in under him, extending my reach, strapping my slender weight across him like a harness. I lay may cheek against the warm place his head left on the pillow. His discarded breath is my oxygen. His scent, my surf.

Soon he is rhythm and release. When his grip relaxes, I plant a kiss his slack cheek then roll away.

It is deep night and I am so very tired.

I fall into the passing current of sleep, drafting in the slipstream of my son’s swift descent.

Image credit: Asleep in the Arms of the Slow-Swinging Sea by Ruby Levick

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8 thoughts on “Overboard”

  1. The window frame catches a draft
    that smells of dead leaves and wet street,
    and I wrap arms around my knees,
    look down on these small breasts,
    so my spine forms a curve as perfect
    as the rim of the moon. I want to tell
    the man sleeping curled as a child beside me
    that this futon is a raft. The moon
    and tiny star we call sun are the parents
    who at last approve of us. For once,
    we haven’t borrowed more than we can return.
    Stars above our cement backyard are as sharp
    as those that shine far from Brooklyn,
    and we are not bound for anything worse
    than we can imagine, as long as we turn
    on the kitchen lamp and light a flame
    under the pot, as long as we sip coffee
    from beautiful China-blue cups and love
    the steam of the shower and thrusting
    our feet into trousers. As long as we walk
    down our street in sun that ignites
    red leaves on the maple, we will see
    faces on the subway and know we may take
    our places somewhere among them.

    “Before Dawn in October” by Julia Kasdorf

      1. How do you decide what poems to post in response? They so often match a mood or tone or image. Is the library stored in your memory? Do you go look things up? What jogs or nudges you, and where do you go with it? I’m fascinated by the way your selections carry on the conversation.

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