Ballast

Two men loved me, once, in Boston. I was married then

to someone else, and so it was easy

for them. It was hard, too; I know this. Passing one

in the dimly lit hallways of the thirty-second floor, I would glance at him

among a gaggle of well-groomed suits, his own bought off the rack, and see tenderness

distorting his gentle features like a palsy. The other was a fishmonger’s son

who spent his nights playing sax in the local clubs. On Fridays

he sold me snapper or striped bass, bluefish swaddled

in last week’s newsprint and mused about Not Waving but Drowning

or some other book of poems he’d seen me reading by the docks

and Googled the night before. Neither knew of the other,

though both understood, by instinct, the life I had dying at home.

These men made of me a fairy tale.

~

A decade later and eight states west, I took laps around a lake

planned by men’s hands and executed by backhoes. As she grew—

first the size of an orange seed, then a raspberry, an olive,

a lime—my husband painted the walls of the world that would become hers.

With his own hands, he built the chair where she and I would sail

to the lands of Little Pookie and every princess whose story I’d relinquish

with a hesitancy verging on wistfulness. But while she was still just a plum

in the pit of some stranger’s stomach, I would finish my run and bend to my bag,

not five feet from the sign that read, “DO NOT feed the water fowl,” and,

removing a sleeve of Ritz, crush and spread them like sand over the damp, matted grass

fronting the water. And when they rushed me, first the bossy Canada geese,

then the furtive mallards pecking furiously about my feet,

I would raise my arms and lift my face to the sun, feeling for a moment

the surge of being at the center of a threat chosen and temporary,

and therefore tolerable.

~

Now the ocean tongues our toes, a feisty breeze

pinching her perfect lips into a pout. Old men, bellies cradled

by aching knees, wide rears flat against faded blankets,

cast shells back toward their watery beginnings, while overhead, wailing gulls

patrol the shallows. Just beyond arm’s reach, she digs with plastic into sand

moist and forgiving as dough, flinging clumps almost as fast as the sea

can unwrite her honest work. Sometimes I look at people and poems

and cannot tell the difference. But then I feel her, soft and solid in my hands,

and wonder if maybe a thing can be both. Or maybe I have grown sentimental.

Even so, there are times, seeing a certain fish at the seafood counter, that I remember

Boston, and think how, once, I saw three geese lift off the water in unison—

their wide rippled wings raging against the shrill October air—

and rise, as one, into the sky.

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