Stripping within the cove, but far enough
Back from the hunting waves,
He left it wedged between two lava rocks
With sneakers, shorts, a rucksack or whatever
Time ticked away, but he did not come back.
I wear it on my wrist now and
From time to time I raise it to my ear
To hear it tick his years away. Not mine
Swaying my bed at night, I feel it rise,
That surf which, savaging, first flung
The swimmer down into the undertow
Swirling below the breakers,
Buckling his knees and sucking him
Far down, far out, out where
(It knocks and rises toward my tilting bed)
The winter current, born that year
One month too soon
Rushes its muscled flow beneath the cliff
Even as I turn in sleep
And follow him
Down from the trail, along the lava rocks
Above the bay where only days before
Someone tore down the sign:
"Swimming Forbidden — Dangerous Undertow"
And made a cookfire of its splintered wood.
And so arranged the drowning.
Now he has stripped and stands
With his companion, at the foaming bay.
This surf is not as huge as he has dared
Along the Carmel coast; his friend
Wary of how the tide in running out
Pulls strongly at his legs, turns back, but he
Whose luck was always good, pushes ahead
And then begins to swim, striking straight out
Or so he thinks, not looking back to see
How he is swiveled by the current's rush
Close to the rocks that snag the bay's north end.
It piles the water into huger surf
That rolling over, rolls a swimmer down
His human frailty drawn
Deep in those roads that underneath the wash
Swing him far out, while I upon my bed
Find that the ocean rolling over it
Sucks me in also, and has flung me down
Where he, still feebly flailing arms and legs,
Goes sliding deeper into the cold dark.
I saw him from the lava cliffs, I saw him next
Cutting across the scope down to the bay
Then wading in. And after that
I watched him fling his hair back from his eyes,
Calm, without panic, frail and arrogant
One final instant in the light.
Then shattering from two sides came the surf
And flung his body to the wallowing
Down rushing and outriding tide
That swirled it under and away.
I did not see him after that.
Feeling the waters of the night, that lift
And tumble me to follow, in my sleep
I strike out too and find myself within
That ruinous silent rushing which
Has whelmed him under,
Chokes his lungs with brine
And he is gone.
I have not seen him as the driving tide
Shunts him deep down. Sinking in that same deep
But cannot see
In the bleared light, his limbs now wavering,
Caught up now in the current that was born
One month too soon, and carries him
To the wide ocean and away from us
Who drift in darkness too and cannot see
And will not see again
The boy, the man, who fought and foundered where
The waters of the world had ramped and raged:
Yes, to our human anguish, but in truth
Not caring or uncaring, blind and deaf.
They tumble him indifferently out
And as his body sinks, itself becomes
A part of that indifference, as are
The depths and darkness that
We wish could speak our language: No
Forever lost to us,
In that estranging peace to which he's gone.
In that estranging peace where we are left.
Hawaii, October 1983