On the beach behind a cheap motel in Florida
a lanky fifteen-year-old decided to test the waters.
This was years ago, on the Atlantic side,
and no one else enjoyed the sand, no lifeguard
kept watch over nothing. The boy
took a stroll straight out to see how far
he could keep going, feet bobbing to the bottom.
Most of us have done the same,
though most of us would not have walked
so far from shore, arms cresting the waves,
our soft hair thrown back and floating.
When the reef dropped off when his long legs dangled
and the cross-tide took him a foot or two
on its way to England, the young swimmer
was not really surprised.
It was as logical for him to be swept away
as anyone else. If only he had stayed
back home in the middle of the USA
where blue meant delphiniums
and water was only rain.
He had not yet touched a girl
and already he was in over his head,
most of life’s books unread, places unseen,
the terrible negative undone all around
perversely carrying him out
into the current of possibility
that finally let him stroke, lungs brimming,
back where once he came from –
the sand felt just the same to all ten toes,
the vacancy sign rose above the tile roof
of the room his family was renting,
the room where he returned
and dried off without word of his escape.
The next day they left and drove part of the way
to the rest of his life. Everything all around
was edged with a sharp black line.
When years later he told the story
to answer a question about fear
he talked about the expanse of ripples,
salt burning his throat,
how impossible that he could have ended there.
* * *
[Source: I do not know where this poem originally appeared, and any information would be appreciated so I can give appropriate attribution.]