Remember, please, this time, just how it feels:
The lasting hot sweet breath before the plunge,
Into the cool green depths, headfirst, and without luck —
Sweet luck, and Joy who brings the swallows home —
A nasty struggle back to reach the top.
The crack and rushing in the lungs, the blood
That pounds your temples and the crushing weight
Of air that must escape if you’re to be
Alive tomorrow, though that’s not your goal.
Still, the body wants to carry on.
There isn’t much you’d say about that age:
Respectful silence is what you’d prefer
Surround your past. You’re not that person now,
And though you thought the pain was permanent
It didn’t last past sunrise on the day
Your youth was spent. It seems a shameful waste,
Though youth remembered always calls regret.
And can you blame it? Parts of life are sweet,
Even in the dark night of the mind,
The soul still sings in freedom at the sight
Of nature’s brilliant sunrise over trees.
Regrettable that you’d still give that up
For surcease, for an end to all this pain
That flesh is heir to. Still, to end the eyes,
The thought of eyes, the hungry, empty nights
And shame and loneliness and future fears,
You’d forsake your days and seek the tide.
It’s hard to recollect those moments now,
The drowning dreams, the longing for the end,
The gasping grief, the heavy hurt, the walk
Each morning to the gauntlet of the bus
Where all the eyes upon you skittered off
When you looked up to meet them. Still, you try:
Correct evaluation wants recall.
It hurts at first, you know, because your lungs
Were built for sky, not water, and your limbs
For ground, not seafoam, and you’ve lost your voice.
The whales may sing, and dolphins, under waves;
Your throat has no such power in the deeps.
Still, this is what you asked for, what you’ve sought:
To still your thoughts and drift away at sea.
You’d squander all your moments to be free.
So kick once harder toward the ocean floor
If you can find it. Take that empty breath
That breaks the rhythm of the ones before.
Become that foam for truth, consign your soul
To wander in the vast dark silences
Between the stars.
And maybe you remain.
Is it farfetched to think that girl still floats
In some forgotten time, in some lost tide
Or eddy of the ocean of your life?
Perhaps she drowned and you are but the foam
And jetsam of her wishful thoughts.
Is that so frightening?
When I was younger, I was in love with death.
More specifically, I was in love with the idea of dying tragically, possibly for love. I had never yet been in love, but I was a very sad and extremely dramatic child.
I also had a lot of dreams about drowning, many of them very vivid, that ended in waking up gasping for air.
Sometime in late middle school or early high school, I read a book called Drowntides by Sydney Van Scyoc. I don’t remember the story at all now, but it did cause me to write a blank verse poem that has haunted me ever since.
25 years later, I no longer have the original text of this poem. My attempt to reconstruct it is in the regular text above; I’m quite certain about the first stanza and the last six lines. I’ve interspersed that poem with italicized sections that detail the adult reaction to this reconstructed earlier poem.