A. L. Breitling

Rookie (02/28/66 / Tennessee)

The Metaphysics Of Surf - A Sestina - Poem by A. L. Breitling

“You know, sometimes I think you would drown,
just to prove your point. Wait until the light
is better. So your Father can see you; so he can whistle
if you’ve gone out too far. Not that I think you need
to be looked after. I realize that you’ve known
how to swim since you were three. It’s in your blood,

just like your Father.” But he’s not really blood.
Not really. It’s just me, and I’d kind of like to drown.
I’d like to go under the waves and pretend I’d never known
I was adopted. I’d hold my breath until my head was light,
then in one great whoop, I’d take in all I’d ever need
to die. I’d leave him on the shore. Leave him to whistle

to empty surf. After four minutes, he wouldn’t whistle
any more. He’d run along the shore and look for blood,
to see if the sharks got me. In his heart, he’d need
my Mother to say: “The child’s not here; she’s sure to drown.
Go out there! Find her! And by the time daylight
was gone, they’d think my memory was all they’d known.

Now I’m twenty-five and thinking this, and I’ve known
more than four minutes under surf. It’s my conscience that whistles
me back. It’s that superego promise of brighter light
that makes me weak at the sight of my own blood.
But, that’s how it goes. We wish that we could drown
in four minutes, when it’s really a lifetime that we need.

There were more of us, and we’ve all had that need
for something different. A better world than what we’d known.
It’s as if we all refused society’s attempts to drown
us. Just like the waves, we couldn’t do it; couldn’t whistle
that same old tune to work; couldn’t qualify the loss of blood
shed in wars, vote Republican, or sleep without a nightlight

on. One swears she saw the greater glory of God’s light,
and she’s clergy now. One’s sure she’ll satisfy her needs
in Yugoslavia. The youngest celebrates the rite of menstrual blood,
and I’m just trying to figure out why it is we’ve known
each other. But I’m the poet. I get to be that strange whistle
in the dark they listen to. I’m the one says it’s okay not to drown.

Considered in that light, it seems as if I’d known
them all forever. Knew what they needed; knew how to whistle
them in like blood. Or, when the time came, let them drown.

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Poem Submitted: Sunday, November 6, 2005

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