Most days seem little more than furious treading,
all arms and legs churning just to stay afloat,
but there are moments when I am able, briefly,
to stop kicking, kicking, kicking my way through.
Body still in an amniotic calm, eyes open
to the balm of sky and light, I recognize the sea
of these years as the place I have spent
my whole life swimming toward, from the time
I was little more than a seed tethered
by one gnarled root, and all I want is to float here
forever, feel the waters of these days with every inch
of skin, my spirit buoyed and rocked by them.
But now, as then, my head turns to the shadow
of the coming shore. As I measure the distance
between myself and that inevitable coast,
unable to deny the currents of time or the futility
of treading, the lilting waves rise into swells
of sweet pain, salt flooding the gates
of my eyes, breaching the barrier of my lips,
and my animal limbs begin their windmilling once again.
We swim above boulders of loss,
our bodies sliding through
the mute shadows they cast.
I once thought we might move beyond
them, but I now suspect
they stretch to the opposite shore.
I remember a time
when this sea was a playground
and we frolicked with abandon.
Now it is an open plain we must cross;
vast fields of water
that mirror the sky’s infinite tides.
Too often we are caught
in separate currents, but still
we swim here together,
our children a tiny school of trailing fish.
Sometimes I think my love
for them might drown me, my body
slowly sinking beneath the weight of it,
bulky as a box I cannot get my arms around.
Sometimes I imagine letting go of it,
setting it upon the roll of a wave
and watching it drift until it looks no
bigger than a ball, a bottle, a doll.
Sometimes I wish I were a mighty ship,
with a sharp bow that could slice neatly through
these waters that constantly surprise me,
my steel hull an impenetrable hold
in which to store it.
But sometimes I know
this love is not something I carry
but something I am, and I am more
the water I swim in than anything else,
more than flesh or blood or bone,
more than dream or memory or desire,
and my skin is more membrane than wall,
and the sea around me, within me, stretches
as far as I can see, and I can see
that it cannot be contained or diminished,
this body that holds me, holds me holding my burdens,
the precious cargo of my existence,
and I know that what holds me will not drown me.
This morning I was looking in a book for a poem I might share here today, and I found this one tucked into its pages. I wrote it years ago, when in the thick of mothering, but I’d forgotten all about it. I know there are other poems I’ve lost. Perhaps I’ll find them again. Perhaps not. I’m sharing it here because this is my notebook, and this is one I’d like to keep.
I’m feeling a bit full of thoughts about writing these days, and about what creative work I do and why. My windmilling is winding down; my babies turn 18 in weeks, and in months they will graduate from high school. When they were born, I had roughly 6, 752 days to spend raising them. Now I have fewer than 200. I cannot believe we are so close to the shore that was only a shadow when I wrote this poem. So many days now, it feels like all I can see. I wonder what will fill my days (mind, heart) when I finally land there.