Because the body is mostly water we suffer gravity:
a pregnant woman’s ankles swell
when standing long; the wounded man in the alley bleeds;
we experience tides as if the moon
dictated more than the sea’s
insatiable taste for sand.
And use my knuckles as an abacus to count
my visits to the ocean—
I blame myself not Freddy Clark in his dad’s four door Chrysler
driving some girl to a state park
All the same.
He’s still telling them,
and I’m still listening, the words remaining long in the hollow shells of mornings
after I cursed him—
seeing a woman I wrote poems for
in his back seat.
That night I climbed the ladder of a lifeguard chair and chose
the maudlin canvas the constellations painted on the waves.
Two hours later I was naked and treading water,
More often I rise above sea level,
shedding myself of the undertow. At five,
I raced my building’s elevator to the eighth floor,
up one more team of stairs to the roof. Hide-and-seek
among its congregation of aerial antennae,
behind the ventilation shafts. We played everyday;
From that height, I could watch the street:
stickball, mail deliveries, Loretta
walking the block to join me for a game of super hero-
and-the-saved. Our curiosity a kind of desire.
In school I’d sneak to the roof,
and study trigonometry in the sine curve pattern
a Super Ball thrown to the street would make:
bouncing skyward, a bright rubber sphere, the way the sun caught it
with a glove of brilliance… I’d lose it
high above Eighteenth Street on clear days
tobacco smoke rallying its upward spiral:
a spirit like the ghosts of word problems
erased from the board: If sea level increases
one foot per day…
Because the body is mostly water a man falling fourteen stories
strikes the sidewalk like a wet sponge, bouncing once,
twice on the concrete.
That’s me gawking from the street. Seventeen.
I hadn’t heard a thing but had to explain
to the police why my head was down
while I walked,
Why I wasn’t in school.
One cop laughed,
All you kids,
depressed and tough.
I bet you wish you were that stiff:
Shit, he was twice your age.
You kids: all dopes.
Shaking the Coke can in his hand,
he scanned my answers one last time
before telling me to beat it. He must be a detective by now
some stray bullet while enjoying the ripe gallery of family life
with a day off at Rockaway Beach
when three guys got into a fight over a woman or a remark.
Which one had the gun…
On yesterday’s news flood victims rowed boats
along Oak Street, Stuart Avenue. Volunteers
with sandbags by the river bank.
A morning later: silence
followed by the shine of a sump pump running, the slosh of boots
and damp jeans through ankle-deep living rooms, the occasional expletive
while the river sleeps with the unease of a newborn.
Somewhere someone is drowning
and someone else is breaking surface. It’s coming up for air
I remember. Three, maybe four,
I’d been jumped from behind
by the tide;
I would have given a pocketful of sand dollars,
my imagined pirate’s gold,
to stand with the breakers bowing at my ankles:
Instead, I crawled the linoleum of broken shells
coughing salt water; crawled past a construction crew of brothers
excavating tunnels for their cars,
young hands steering them through sandy highways; crawled
The brunette girl who could have been Loretta,
her ponytail damp, stringy, and barnacled to her back.
She stared and hugged her Barbie close.
Even these are acts of love:
I wanted to dive into the bay after a woman said no.
I was tying my wrists together when I was discovered
on the docks by Battery Park;
I once climbed seven stories
by fire escape onto the roof of a walk-up because of yes.
By then I knew the difference
between love and desire,
knew the two met somewhere:
a hormonal horizon that I can’t see even with hindsight.
When the water bursts, it’s time.
And to water we’ll return
go under and feel the pressure in our lungs,
almost libidinal. Listen to the sea:
I want. I want. I want…
In bathrooms all over the country salt water
gossip echoes in conch shells; even far from the coast
they know the stories: the dead lovers forever dancing on the ballroom
of the Titanic. She wears a gown of sea weed,
and his eyes glow
phosphorous as innuendo,
The sun fires just beyond the horizon. First light
far to the East because the earth is mostly water.
High tide and low tide exchange shifts;
already old men with metal detectors clutter the shore
seeking some pirate treasure that’s slipped through the pockets of the sea,
a declasped bracelet or an excommunicated earring, but they’re lucky
if they find dimes from the years of their birth. Look,
one of them is now on his knees. I can’t see
what he lifts to this infantile sunlight
before surrendering it, indifferent.
Those bottle cap and quarter beeps.