After a night of tortured sleep,
I leave the others to walk
Along the coast, just above Highway 1.
Through the morning mist,
Two silhouettes come into focus.
Two cormorants, perhaps,
Engaged in a romantic display,
But human voices seem to carry
Through the fog, echoing against
The coastal cliff. I become convinced,
Against reason, that these are angels,
Perhaps sent with a message of enlightenment.
I’m giddy, and I try to make out the words
That might make an insufferable existence
Worthwhile after all, but the language fails me.
I can only tell the larger of the angels seems
To be shouting his desperation, or warning,
or even despair, but his words are swallowed
by the wind and fall with a thud on the coast.
The smaller angel seems locked in vertical climb,
Racing to heaven on wings that slowly dissipate.
Surely his ascension is at hand.
But in agonizing beauty, this wingless
Creature begins a rapid descent,
Followed by a forlorn father
Racing to the depths of a pacific
And welcoming sea.
The sun is now high above the horizon,
The mist is burned off, and the village
Welcomes a clear day with hopes
For a bountiful catch and an ignorant
Faith in its own unrevealed destiny.
At 12, I rode my first dirt bike.
Don’t go too far, he said as he
Helped me coordinate the clutch
And throttle and set me down
The beach. I could have turned.
In theory, it should have been easy
On a flat and empty beach,
But what does a boy with this
Kind of power for the first time
Know about turning back?
No one had explained this part,
And I just held on and kept
Twisting the throttle till
The sand seduced me,
And I helplessly sank under
A bike I had no chance of lifting.
And my angry Daedalus came stomping
Across the sand with furious reminders
That I had been warned. I had been
Told not to go too far.
And I imagine Icarus soaring higher
With no idea how to govern either
His speed or altitude—driven
By equal parts exhilaration and terror,
Waiting only for the comforting
Embrace of Poseidon,
The father who never
Lets us out of his grasp.
The father who can’t let go
And smothers us with love.
Your mother only knew the comfort
Of gentle beaches with waves that caressed
And never battered holiday bathers.
She only knew the pacific beaches of
The Great Lakes and idyllic Asian islands.
She had never experienced the brutality
Of the Texas Gulf Coast, and she would
Have assumed “riptide” to be a video game
Or pop song, not a lethal feature of
A holiday destination.
And what better way to spend Mother’s Day
Than with your children at the beach?
It’s the stuff of Norman Rockwell cards
And saccharine American traditions.
And you both swam like stars.
You loved the diving board, and
You never left the deep end. You
Were invincible. I remember your
Laughter as you always escaped
In a game of water tag.
It’s easy to nod off at the beach, or
Just break concentration for a
Moment as the breeze kisses your cheek.
In an instant, you may
Realize you no longer hear the
Joyous cacophony of childhood laughter.
In an instant, your sister is gone
Under the punishing waves and against
The unforgiving grain of packed sand.
I don’t know, but I think you tried to
Find her, giving your last
Conscious moments to her aid.
Somehow, your body stayed with us,
On machines, for three more days.
I can’t describe the unreality of those
Days, but it finally ended to the chords
Of “Born in the USA,” which your patriot
Father asked the radio station to play
Over the air as your body
Was finally permitted to lay at rest.
Through the tears, I still chuckled at the
Irony, as you were born in Japan, and
Your father had never listened to
The lyrics of that song.
Someone said Jim lived in Seven Oaks. Now, to some people that might sound like a compliment or, at least, a nice comment on account of the fact that some pretty nice places are named Seven Oaks, but Seven Oaks, Texas isn’t one of them, and Jim didn’t own or rent any kind of home in Seven Oaks.
Jim lived in Livingston, Texas, which was a few miles south and happened to be the county seat of Polk County, which was a dry county, meaning you couldn’t buy a drink of alcohol in Livingston come hell or high water. If you liked to imbibe a drop or two of spirits, wine, or beer, you’d have to drive north or south on highway 59 until you got out of Polk County.
If you drove north on 59, you’d cross the county line and be greeted by a sign saying, “Welcome to Seven Oaks.” If you drove a tiny bit further, you’d see the Seven Oaks bar. I don’t think it is there anymore, but you’ll still find a liquor store there.
Anyway, that Seven Oaks bar didn’t exactly have a concealed parking lot, so your car would just be sitting there for God and all the world to see.
So if any of your nosy neighbors or family saw your car there more than once in a week, they might start gabbing around about how you lived up there or something. It was a not so nice way of saying you were a drunk.
I don’t remember anyone ever saying he was an alcoholic, though. In fact, his sister insisted that he most certainly was not an alcoholic, though she did concede that he made a habit of being drunk, so she was willing to say he was a habitual drunk, but he never got the DTs if he didn’t have a drink for a few hours or anything like that.
And he could clean up and get through a Sunday sermon all right if push came to shove, and alcoholics can’t really pull that off, so he just stayed drunk because he wanted to—not because he had to.
And I guess that’s all that matters sometimes, you know? We’re all just trying to do good enough to pacify the family and the neighbors. If you can keep that up, you might just have a pretty good life. And who knows, someday you might hit it big with one of those scratch-offs you keep buying at the Seven Oaks bar.