It’s evening in the desert and we’re moving against the current

toward a building with a cheap buffet. Before we make it

to the door, you’re holding your breath, shutting your eyes

because my brother’s children won’t walk with you as grandkids

do; they move like a small school, their fins wriggling in unison

and play. They want me to swim with them, but I take your hand

paying then, as always, with the duty of my skin.

 

At breakfast, Stevie’s wife tells us you snuck off

twice to smoke and lit up again with the baby

in the car on the ride home. My brother straightens

from where he’s bent over the boy’s bowl, the cheerios

jumping from the cliff of his face in disbelief and falling

in waves over the turquoise flesh of Aquaman

on the plastic table cloth. Wiping the milk

and tamping down a rage, he tells Myriah

how when we were younger—the Lincoln

buoyant in the drag of the Nevada highway—

younger and netted together and trembling,

we’d attempt to roll the window down, gasp

against the crack of glass for the hot air,

the blue-grey smoke weaving itself around the necks

of our penny wishes. He tells her how you wailed

like a siren from the front and we were back

to breathing from our gills, and blind.

 

So dinner’s over and we’ve split my nephews

between us. You drop M. and the baby

at the door. I’m wading the five-year-old

through the first age of glaciers, past

the continental shift. Before I can hand

him off to the coral and a sandy bed,

you’ve pulled anchor, you’re rolling

out of the drive.

 

From the shore I signal to you

in the street. You stop. Don’t

pull to the curb. Don’t pull back

into the driveway. But sit there

 

transverse

 

like a line drawn with a straight edge

through blue and green and brown alike

with no regard for the topography

of the map, no attention to where

the sea is passable, and where,

if you’re lucky enough, it will call you

and hold you and pull you down

into the deep. You sit there,

angled, cutting the asphalt. You

crack the window as little as you can.

 

This is not you screaming and dragging me by my yellow shirt,

my head striking the floor, my arm burning against the carpet,

the seams yielding and rent, the Albatross on the front

screeching, me drowning in your voice. This is not you

chanting and profane, writing gibberish on a long yellow pad

and slapping the knife on the counter as a toll

to the front door and leaving into the red dusk.

 

You’re calm. Like I’m asking for directions

or the weather. Like you’ll see me

in the morning. Or you won’t

and it won’t matter.

 

My brother wept when I told him. Wept

because he knew how me raising him—

how the long bus rides to the dentist,

cavities filled with student loan money—

how the strain on a first and fragile love,

and choosing him— how my love was not

yours no matter what I gave, what I filled—

and I swore, never, never shall the sea fill me—

and the sea fills me. He wept because he loves me

and pulled me in and held me in the deep—

 

But you, sitting in the car, the last hazard

of the evening, you can’t see me through

the haze enough to ask me for a light. You don’t

reach across the passenger seat for my hand

my hair, or touch my face. Or ask me what it was

that brought me all this way. Tonight I am

the ebbing tide, and I obey the moon.

 

I walk away.

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