A mile across the lake, the horizon bare
or nearly so: a broken sentence of birches.
No sand. No voices calling me back.
Waves small and polite as your newly washed hair
push the slime-furred pebbles like pawns,
an inch here. Or there.
You threaded five balsa blocks on a strap
and buckled them to my waist, a crazy life
vest for your lazy little daughter.
Under me, green deepened to black.
You said, “Swim out to the deep water.”
I was seven years old. I paddled forth
and the water held me. Sunday you took away
one block, the front one. I stared down
at my legs, so small, so nervous and pale,
not fit for a place without roads.
Nothing in these depths had legs or need of them
except the toeless foot of the snail.
Tuesday you took away two more blocks.
Now I could somersault and stretch.
I could scratch myself against trees like a cat.
I even made peace with the weeds that fetch
swimmers in the noose of their stems
while the cold lake puckers and preens.
Friday the fourth block broke free. “Let it go,”
you said. When I asked you to take
out the block that kept jabbing my heart,
I felt strong. This was the sixth day.
For a week I wore the only part
of the vest that bothered to stay:
a canvas strap with nothing to carry.
The day I swam away from our safe shore,
you followed from far off, your stealthy oar
raised, ready to ferry me home
if the lake tried to keep me.
Now I watch the tides of your body
pull back from the hospital sheets.
“Let it go,” you said. “Let it go.”
My heart is not afraid of deep water.
It is wearing its life vest,
that invisible garment of love
and trust, and it tells you this story.