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The Undertow

Bert Almon


In the days that I waited for my biopsy results,
I sat in the wicker chair in the garden
and watched the purple flowers of the lunaria,
the silver dollar plant. After the flowers come
the green disks of the seed pods. Rub them,
and the pearly circles emerge. Under the living green
find the opalescence, then dry the plant,
put it in a vase on a plain wooden table,
creating a constellation of little moons.

In the garden I imagined a tug at my sleeve,
and I thought of the undertow my parents
always warned me about at the beach.
They never told me that the only hope
is to give in to it, let it carry you out
to some point where you can swim to shore.
It is never the shore you started from.


Floating, drifting, I remembered safe places,
like the grassy lane beside the house
on St. Augustine Street. There was a fig tree,
and a long stretch for my bicycle.
The two chihuahuas, Pancho and Pepe,
seemed the only menace on my journeys.
But once my father was mowing our bit of lane
with his shirt off and ran into a bush,
disturbing a nest of yellow jackets. He screamed,
and it was nothing like the funny scenes
in the funny papers, the Katzenjammer Kids
tormenting the Captain and the Inspector
with hornets' nests: there was always a plunge
into the safety of a pond, and spankings afterward.
As my mother applied the baking-soda compresses
to her moaning husband, she counted nineteen stings.


How many scenes of that lane I remembered
as I floated offshore, looking for the way
to an easy beach. Then it came back, the day
I was chasing Martians with my plastic ray gun.
and ran into a clothesline at neck level:
I stood choking, my eyes wide open
but with a dark lid like smoked glass
closing over them for a moment. I think

the humming sound in my ears
was the clothesline wire, an odd instrument
struck to a single note. I couldn't sing to it
then, but I am doing so now, giving
my fears a voice, giving my voice its fear.

Bert Almon's works copyright © to the author.

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