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OF MORNING GLASS: Becoming a swimmer.

Is this the first time that feeling comes, not at all frightening, but familiar to you? Your understanding of the water and its relation to the body, your being able to hold your own inside the enormous-unimaginable, to dive deep and come up far from where you started: when does it begin? Is it the day you step off of the last step in the shallow end of a neighbor's pool up the street near the river, the water line shifting your vision to divide all that is in from all that is not in water? Or earlier, when you walk into the waves out front--an expression that means the water of the vast Atlantic Ocean that flows almost to your doorstep-feeling for the first time the relief that there is a thing that is much bigger than you, enormous in fact? Or the feeling has its roots in the way your father talks about the stars that make up the Milky Way, your relation to them mathematical, an infinite sense of connection among bodies, each floating in its atmosphere.

In reality out front is not at your doorstep but five hundred yards of steaming asphalt from the three-bedroom, two-bath bungalow in which your parents have raised seven children. You walk it blind, having learned the way of each and every pebble donated to the asphalt mix, and the pebbles in turn have learned the feel of your leathering skin. Out front beyond the cut-through, first through the dunes and later as trespass walking under the stilts of houses that block your cut-through over dwindling and eroded dunes.

Hide and seek suffers these erosions. Pickle under the street light. Kick the can through the back yards. Eroded too, the presence of so many people in the house: brothers and a sister who each leave you there. Then you leave them, your parents, there. The erosions of time follow.

In truth out front is also a piece of language, one of the first phrases you learn, an idiom you share with the two hundred people (an estimate) who know what it means: the patch of the Atlantic Ocean directly in front of 219 Robinson Road, the house with all the surfboards in the back room, the one where the rocket scientist and his wife and their five sons and two daughters live. Later, it will be the spot of beach in front of the house where the widow lives, boards still there if you want to paddle out out front, catch a dawn patrol, use all of it as an excuse to check on her. You are a son home for a quick visit, a nephew crashing in a back bedroom, a boy who knew her daughter, a friend of someone who loved someone who lived here.

By the time you are writing this the very house you ran home to as the rain followed you in sheets from the beach is not gone but gutted, remodeled. Whoever remodeled it has not changed the pitch of the roof, and as you walk barefoot from out front down the street you recognize that pitch. Like a music it sings to you.

Out front is two hundred yards of beach in front of a side street on a barrier island seventeen miles long and half a mile wide. Driving, take the south causeway to reach it if you are worried the drawbridge on the north causeway will stop you. Swimming from Crawford Approach, the Atlantic's northerly current takes you quickly past it. Blink and you're halfway to the inlet, already approaching Beachway. You'll have a long walk back.

Though out front is simply the ocean in front of a phantom house, these decades later you still have the habitual stroke that you developed there. Rarely do you have an expanse of water big enough to use it. Its memory dwarfs a house pool, makes you restless in the lap pools of several towns in which you settle: Poughkeepsie, Amherst, Northampton, Gloucester, Charleston, Newtown. You try out YMCAs, high-school and university pools, community centers, but you are meant for salt water. And anyway yours is a distance-swimmer's stroke, three pulls with each arm (six total) before you take a breath on your left side. This gets you two-thirds of the way down an Olympic-sized pool before you begin your flip-turn. In the ocean, you can get about three hundred yards out with about ten of these. You like to get far enough out that the curve of the earth hides the beach. Counting is important without the end of the pool to keep track of lengths. In the ocean you swim out until the beach disappears, then over. From Flagler to out front, depending on the current, is about 80 breaths. The lifeguards know you can handle yourself far out so they don't call you back. They also know how deep it is out there and know you know it, too.

The habitual stroke gives you swimmer's ear and more muscle tone on one side--an imbalance and a strength. You should breathe on both sides, you should alternate this stroke, but you don't ever do it. Anyway, you much prefer diving far down in the water and swimming for as long as you can before you pop back up, but this is something the lifeguards would worry after. It would distract them from the possible drownings right under their noses, the ones involving those overcome by the surf, to keep track of where you disappear and resurface. The line of surf is a game to you--when a wave is too big for you to jump over you are deep under it before it can get you--it's a slight pull at your back as you shine yourself out the other side and begin with those habitual pulls to head deeper, farther. Your brothers are surfing out front and you want to meet them. Or if not your brothers, their friends, and if not them, your nephews, or your nephews' friends, all of them at least once have stored a board at the phantom house, have slipped in while your mother is taking her afternoon nap, checked her breathing.

The edge of the continent outside her door, and for many years, yours. Any time of day you can come here and walk at its edge, the edge of a continent. Some days you swim but other days you walk two miles at a stretch feeling the way in which the outgoing tide has shaped and reshaped the surface of the hard sand into ridges, a river bed, a pillowy mattress with pockets of air left when the water lava'd its way over mounds of dry sand, trapping air particles, then receded. You like to walk blind on solitary days and feel the sense of your feet touching so many millions of particles of sand, some of them surface dwellers, others churned-up new arrivals. And you come here after storms for the shells, mounds of them in jars and tupperware in your room in the house down the street. From there you can lie in bed and listen hard to know what the waves are doing, whether out front is glassy or choppy. Or someone in your house will have already checked the waves before you woke up, will have headed out front to surf. Before you wake up you will have registered this, it will pull you from sleep the way the tide pulls itself out; you will slip on a suit to go find your brother surfing, or his friend, one of whom has snuck into the back room (the board room but also your bedroom) and slipped out the side door with his board. You are such a good swimmer you find them easily and swim out to them, even on the outside break. Even on big days. Sometimes you say hi and swim out past them. No one gives you swimming this way a second thought.

It is much later when you find a name for it--oceanic--talking to a Roman Catholic priest at work, who says that the feeling-small-near-the-ocean feeling, the I'm-small-it's-big comfort which throughout your childhood you used to navigate and order the stripped, chaotic, unbound world, is a specific religious phenomenon common to many cultures. First described as oceanic by a correspondent of Freud's, the oceanic feeling is a specific sensation. Romain Rolland, after a meeting with Freud, wrote to him (in rough translation):
But I would have liked to see you doing an analysis of
       spontaneous religious sentiment or, more exactly, of
      which is ... the simple and direct fact of
      the feeling of the 'eternal' (which can very well not be
      eternal, but simply without perceptible limits, and like
      oceanic, as it were).

A feeling of the 'eternal': the water over your head, you holding strong under the upward pull of the wave, knowing something innate--or learned--how can you tell now, about how to dive first and then resist the pull of the building wave wall that has already broken on top of you, is moving away from your body as you swim powerfully out of its grasp. Your habit of no fear, your going out far, farther than most. The sense that tired just means float, rest. Then swim more. As if you are in your element. Simply without perceptible limits: you could, if you chose to, swim for hours directly away from the coast. That a limit is not perceptible does not mean you will not reach yours suddenly, an end to your reserves. You are not sure where that end point is because you have not met it. Your impulse seems to be a willingness to dive deep, to partake in spontaneous religious sentiment. A simple and direct fact of your way of being that the ocean, in its scale and beauty, seems to answer.

You've been told the continental shelf is closer here, on this beach, than at any other point in the eastern Atlantic shoreline, and that explains the strange sea creatures that wash up, the mile-long worms and large grey egg sacks (underwater cliff-dwellers washed ashore by storms). You've been told the larger marine animals swim closer to shore here. You have not reached them on your limitless swims, but you sense they are there.

You are no more than eight years old and as many as 20 when you ritually swim like this. You are accompanied by the musculature of your arms and legs, the beating of your strong heart, and the oceanic feeling.

When your father talks about the stars and your relation to them you listen. Perhaps this is because he has calculated the route the astronauts have taken to the moon, has returned them on their perilous return to the Earth when it no longer seemed they could make it. You imagine he has done these enormous actions the way he has tucked you into bed, with a matter-of-fact, competent kindness.

You also listen because the sky belongs to you and him. Your first memories of this sky, some of the first times you heard the ocean the way you always hear it now, you lay in an old-fashioned perambulator your father would wheel down to the beach at night. He would walk you along this edge you've grown so attached to, looking up at the stars. Perhaps he was thinking of the names of the astronauts he'd placed there and returned, or the ones that burned up on the pad. That first Apollo mission would haunt him even though the rest came back. For years of the rest would come back, for most of your childhood the sound of these waves and your father coming and going from NASA.

A feeling of the eternal ... simply without perceptible limits. You both had insomnia, he said. So he took you with him on these sky-edged walks.

You are in high school when you mind the radio in the tower at Flagler Approach that has a view of the boys with the flags at each lifeguard station for six miles, thirty of them altogether, including the ones that come to visit you, the lunch relays, who give the tower guards lunch but otherwise lounge with you four stories up in the tower, where you take the binoculars and look, count eight, ten flags till you lose sight of the far ones to the curve of the beach and the haze in the air. If they have a rescue they're to tell you on the radio, but if they have to go quickly because someone is drowning they can simply drop their flag and run. Every other guard will drop his flag until the relay reaches you. So you watch the farthest flag you can see while you listen to the dispatch radio. You don't look up or away when the lunch relay climbs your stairs, shaking the tower with each step. When he arrives you are looking straight out into the blue. Of course you do stop looking through your binoculars to talk with him, but not right away. This is serious work.

There are one or two tower guards who are girls among so many boys, but in the station you are a girl among men; you on the radio, the one they hear, the one they tease, clicking their radios in their boredom, asking you the time of day, or the time of high tide or low. Each of them, like you, has grown up on this beach and the timetable of tides is so ingrained they can tell high or low from their beds, from the way the air smells or the wind stops as the tide turns, but they like hearing your voice. You are quick and reassuring and familiar, your voice low and steady. They like to ask you questions you have to answer in front of everyone. None of it goes very far.

You are also the one who quiets them when a rescue is underway, saying 10-63 which means only emergency communications while the officers (the men, their supervisors, who mostly sit around in the downstairs station refusing you your bathroom break, your lunch break) head off lights and sirens in their truck (called the unit, another joke word you say over radio twitters and clicks) to the tower (numbered sequentially south to north, 602 to 640) that has the rescue. In this manner you oversee the silence of many rescues, most only a few minutes long. Certain tower numbers--636, 618, 602--you listen archly for during rescues, aware from your own swimming they are dangerous spots for their runout currents or steep dropoff's. And you listen for 640, the northernmost tower on your beach, the one edged by the inlet that separates your beach from the next town over, in case sharks have come south from the north side of the inlet into the surfing area. But shark attacks are uncommon.

In this manner, over the several summers it takes you to graduate high school, college, then graduate school, you are the dispatcher on a few near-drownings, the silence growing longer till your captain tells you to call an ambulance or that a family has transported the victim in their own vehicle to the hospital. No more than once or twice, you preside over the extended silence of an actual drowning, the captain calling for an ambulance to come and wait while he, the tower guard, every officer and every available lunch relay, converge on the scene to dead-man dive into the water at the body's last known location, searching for the body with their every extremity, spread out like starfish, until they find the body or the time has passed when the brain could survive without oxygen, a complicated calculation that requires the captain to ask you on air for the water temperature and time of rescue. You provide it, briefly breaking the silence. While the captain does the math, the radio sleeps, sometimes for longer than the calculation required, because it's a hard thing for a group of swimmers to stop looking for a body in water.

While this is happening, you are looking far out where the ocean's depth changes the water's color, watching the shadows the clouds make on the surface of this infinite thing, so large now it is capable of swallowing swimmers whole. Your limbs itch to swim to where the deeper water is making its deeper blue. But you are at your binoculars trying to see down to where the unit has pulled up to the tower, where the ambulance waits, its lights off. Before you hear him you see the captain head to the unit to radio you. A series of numerical codes tells you and every listening guard that the radio is free now for normal use. Through the binoculars you see the tower guard climb back up to his position on the tower. It's him or, you can't tell which, maybe one of the lunch relays climbs up to finish the guard's shift. Someone--the lunch relays and tower guards are all boys of similar age so you can't tell--climbs into the back of the unit and heads back your way. Soon whoever that is will climb your stairs to tell you what has happened. But you are a swimmer yourself and you already know.

You swam drill with each one of them that morning, more than thirty of you swimming first 300 yards out, then 300 over, last 300 in, then jogging the three football fields back to the station. A perfect 300-yard box, the perfect asymmetry of three parts sea, one part land. You don't have to swim with them--you're not a guard--but you do. You share as much of it as you can with them, knowing at some point a moment like this one is coming no one can share. Before anyone can climb up to tell you the whole story--while the unit makes its slow way to you down the beach--you think of the difference between drowned and saved. You think how story is the wrong word for what the boy will come and tell you. And you think how you want to swim with all of them right now. You want to see their strong strokes ahead of you, then behind--you are a distance swimmer, suited to depths, and they are trained to sprint. Something in you wants to get into the water right away.

After work some of you paddle out on the rescue boards quiet, letting your muscles move in reassuring repetition. You take turns catching languorous sunset waves. You catch one wave with Lyle, a lunch relay who is an old friend of yours all the way back to Coronado Elementary. The both of you easily paddle in tandem on one long board, Lyle behind you in front, timing it so you stand together and ride the wave all the way in. No one says much. For a long time no one wants to go home--before you there seem to be several hours of this dusky glass to which each of you has been born.

You are grown and landlocked, living in Connecticut, when your older boy is at school one day and the news comes (on the news) that in your town, there's been a shooting. Long seconds pass before you find out it's not your boy's school but another, one school over from his. It's a half hour before you learn the extent of it: twenty first graders and six teachers are dead two miles from your son's school, even closer as the crow flies to your husband and your younger son, both home. Your husband is texting you what he can find out by looking at news sites. He doesn't turn on the news where Luke, your younger boy not at school because afternoon kindergarten is canceled, might see it.

As you drive to pick up Willem, your older son, you can't shake the urge to swim, the resemblance of those seconds of waiting to radio silence. As soon as you are in the car with him you tell him what's happened and he asks to go home so you do. You do go home. But what you want to do is swim out front. But what is out front to your boys? What are they born to as you were that water?

For weeks you wake to the sensation of gulping for air. You aim yourself, your sons, your husband, toward some kind of steady stroke. But swimming is a metaphor for something else. You replace drowned and saved with new words: taken, not taken. You learn all this but it will be years until you take it in. You have to swim with it to take it into your body.

Years pass and the sensation that you are swimming a long way in deep water does not leave you. You become aware that this is simply a way of thinking about something you can't otherwise accommodate. When you are tired of swimming you float on its infinite surface, and you are not sure why hut its infinite surface doesn't swallow you. Sometimes the codes and language of that time on the beach return to you: drownings, near-drownings. Sometimes you are swimming again with those morning guards. You see their young faces as they finish the box and barrel out of the water, and you see how they looked later, after they'd sat through all that radio silence.

But there are months in Newtown when your ears don't fill with water even once. One summer Luke, your younger boy, now ten, teaches himself to dive at the town pool. You see he is a natural in the water but you don't tell him what a swimmer you are. He swims the length of the pool in one breath and you wonder if some of it is genetic, innate. He has not grown up out front, next to the infinite feeling, yet somehow it's in his lungs. Or something in his own experience--the shooting, its aftermath--gives him a sense of living on the edge of a great depth. Not the edge of a continent, as you had, but the edge, perhaps, of what can be understood.

You were just a year or so older than he when you quit surfing. You remember the day partly because a storm had thrown up deep-water creatures (the white husks of long sea worms, malformed shells resembling the burls of sick trees) from the continental shelf. The water was still choppy. It was the fall, windy, already the beach was clear of tourists. All the lifeguard towers were moved up to the soft sand for the winter, which meant no guards even worked weekends anymore. Sometime after Columbus Day: October, your favorite, but once you were paddling out you saw the waves were bigger than you'd thought. It took you a long time to paddle out to the outside break as the lips of waves caught and pulled your board back. But you made it.

This was a short board, handed down by a brother to you, and to ride for any length of time you had to turn and ride the face of the wave, gathering the speed for the short board from the froth that followed it. Until that day you hadn't been able to turn this way, but that day, something in you figures it out. You don't figure it out so much as begin to use your swimmer's mind. As it does your steady stroke your body does this turn. Later you won't be able to recreate how. You will just know it is the first and last time you will do it. You'll remember as you paddled out thinking how much stronger you'd be against all this water with just your body rather than this clumsy board--too buoyant to take with you on your long dives under the waves, it always dragged you backwards into the froth. The way a surface thought prevents its deeper imagining, maybe. Or how a child is called to dinner away from the possibility of play.

Maybe it's the heaviness of the board that does it. After that in the water you were always swimming. As Luke dives and swims to the limit of his breath, you don't tell him any of this and you quit thinking of it as quitting surfing. Rather, you chose swimming. You don't ask what Luke's quitting, what he's choosing to take with him into his muscle memory. Maybe he won't feel he has to choose.

What is the relationship of a vessel to what it holds? You are aware of the relationship of your skin to the blood, the organs, the bones and joints it holds in place. You have some sense of it from church, too--make of me a vessel of your peace. And from the coastline, as sense of the shifting but mathematically predictable way in which high tide follows low every six hours plus twenty minutes, something you can calculate two weeks out, the amount of time it takes the world to turn upside down from high to low. The tides a kind of vessel in which the ocean is kept. But you know rogue waves and tides disrupt it, take a bite out of the coastline or sweep a child out to sea. You know because you have seen both happen.

While you swim you are a vessel for what you hold, and also part of what is held. This is the key to the oceanic feeling. In the months after the shooting all you want is to feel again this floating oceanic certainty you felt as a child, but vessels have been breached everywhere. All over town vessels are spilling. You pull and breathe and flip-turn in pools that are too small for what your body now knows, what it has been asked to take in.

You know though you are not bone-familiar with it that there is a point inland where the tide no longer has any pull, and the water there seems ruled by something besides the cosmos. You find it strange that this water that has no relation to the moon is called fresh. On the vessel that holds that water you are not well versed but you wonder if this is part of living with the shooting--the vessel and what holds it reversing themselves, the cosmos, its order, no longer available to turn the system back to a tidal kind of order. No tidy flip-turn in fresh water will help you.

It will be six years since the shooting before you swim in big-enough salt water, water different enough from your childhood, to mark any kind of reordering. You are not sure if you can return to a feeling of the eternal, but you swim anyway. It's north of Barcelona, at a small rocky beach called Aiguablava, where you and the boys and your husband climb the rock ledge that leads to the next beach over, having heard there is a spot where you can swim in an infinity pool made by these rock formations. Online the pictures seem color-altered, but when you get to the coastline you see it really is this impossible shade of blue. When you get to the place in the rocks where there should be a pool, you realize the pool appears only at high tide and you have come at low tide. The fishermen below you know the tide tables but you do not. This is not your ocean. You have not taken note of the tide at your arrival at the beach--the amnesia of a muscle left neglected these landlocked years--and now there is only sweat and disappointment. You scan the rocks for a safe place to enter the larger sea (rather than a small protected pool). Your body tells you that you can swim all the way back to Aiguablava and that swimming is better than the long rocky staircase you've climbed to reach it. And your body wants the open water.

The boys, 11 and 15 now, want to go with you, if you can find the place where the waves won't dash you each on the rocks, the sweet spot where the current won't send you far out from the coast. Your husband notices a series of buoys that line the coast of the two beaches, indicating others have swum the route, and agrees you all can swim back. He will carry your things and watch you from the high path.

Painstakingly and not without some slips (the rocks are covered with moss at low tide) you find a covelet where the current runs out but not too far, just enough to clear the rocks. You will jump in first--waiting till the waves are between sets (a word you remember from surfing, the number of waves that come before a minutes-long rest), showing the boys how to jump out and away from the rocks to the deepest part of the small channel. You jump out and you are in, underwater. Both ears fill and the sound you hear is the economy of so much water, its negotiation with the rocks. Then you surface and hold out your hands for Luke next, then Willem.

All three of you are swimming now. Almost immediately you feel vessel-in-vessel, the oceanic feeling. You watch your boys and think: there issomething to doing again in adulthood what you learnedto do when you were very young. As soon as you think it you leave the thought, positioning yourself behind your sons so they are in your sight always.

A few strokes later you are all safely away from the coast. You spot your husband high up on the cliff, and finding the three of you he takes a picture. Later you are three almost imperceptible specks in an impossible blue enormity. It's the oceanic feeling, the boys safe inside it, something you've rarely felt for them on land. And you are aware that what you once held has spilled out into the world.

You meet this knowledge with your strong stroke, your steady beating heart. You let yourself be what is held and its vessel. You swim as you empty, and you empty as you swim.

You are back from that new water, back in Newtown, when you watch Luke diving by rote. Not into water this time but into the flat unforgiving ground, toward a ball, over and over, in goalie practice. A game of cosmic pong, his body the paddle sent in one direction, then the other. Later he tells you there was a pebble in the grass. He did his best to time his dive to avoid it. He shows you quickly the sharp lines his body made grazing it, not cuts but welts. You recall swimming the opposite way through a school of fish on a morning drill, the fish so strong and--surprised?--slapping against your body. No cuts but marks on your body after. And you think of timing your dives under the biggest waves.

Again you think of the silence on the radio, your order 10-63 to quiet the tower guards, this time because a boy not much older than you, a guard from Dunlawton station north of your inlet, the next town over, is narrating something he sees near the inlet, on the north side of the rocks that divide your town from his. In fact, he is so far south you can probably hear him better than his home dispatcher, the signal strong to you, but he is talking to another girl like you ten miles north as the pelicans fly from your position. He is telling her that some men--or boys--he can't tell--have pulled a sea turtle out of the surf three hundred yards from his tower and are butchering it with a machete. He is asking permission to go stop them and she is telling him she's called the police, that he has no weapon to take them on, that theirs is a federal offense and they will be arrested. He answers back that he has the hard side of his buoy. In his voice is a cry for all the beauty that he has taken into his body living on this beach, all the tidal shifts, every swim he has ever taken. You take out your binoculars to see if you can see into the no-man's-land between your two beaches, a stretch between two identical jetties, where the boy says the men are, but it's too far. You can't ask 640 what he sees because you're on radio silence. That silence yawns while the dispatcher asks the captain his permission for the guard to go and he refuses, a moment later as the captain reports he is on the way to the location (the 10-20), then nothing.

A little while later the airwaves open again to normal traffic. You don't find out what happened exactly but you can imagine. Into your swimmer's body you have taken two drownings and a turtle butchering and you are not yet twenty.

On the pitch Luke is diving one way then the other. His coach sends the second ball before the first ball is fully repelled, a speeded-up pong. He catches more at more impossible angles. Out of the corner of his eye an imaginary school of fish, swimming in his direction, changes course with him, lifting him above all that might scratch him.

You return from your swim in the Mediterranean to the twelfth-century castle with five guest rooms. Every morning its devoted owner has served you a cake you guess is a pilgrim's cake, eaten for centuries as pilgrims walk this way toward the Pyrenees. Almonds, no wheat flour. His English is spotty, your Spanish nonexistent, but he tells you. When you ask about the dog, he tells you his name is Fosc, the Catalan word for dark, and complains that everyone loves the dog. No one comments on the painstaking renovation of the 800-year-old building, but the dog they love. Everyone loves the dark, he says.

There is no darkness in this dog--a big gold king of a German Shepherd--but the owner tells me before this dog he had a black dog who died. Afterwards he got this dog and named it Fosc for the dog that is gone. You tell him your boys have come up with a theory that Fosc is beloved because Fosc has been here for 800 years, dark is every dog who has ever lived here, which makes the man who mourns a dead dog smile.

Perhaps this exchange is why he stops you as you come in from your beach-to-beach low-tide swim. Fosc's man has been mowing in Fosc's hay fields. The man opens his hand to show you a small thing in his large palm. He has found what you first think is a smooth pebble, grey as a sky over morning glass. Then he shows you its unbroken side. A stone? you say, and he shakes his head. Fosc has come to see what the matter is. With a twist of his wrist your innkeeper turns the stone over and shows you its tiny hole: it's an egg from the swallow's nest above, saved from the mower by his keen eye. He hands it to you, a vessel that kept a chick floating all those warm nights, now empty. You bring it across an ocean, taking care to wrap it in a glasses' case and paper, and it sits on a blue saucer on your writing desk. It swims there, swims as Fosc swims through centuries bearing the name of all other dogs, substance and vessel both.

Earlier on this same trip you and Willem had been out at dusk in a small town in France. One night driving back to the house you've rented you see a herd of goats and sheep, dogs tending them, and their man walking behind. When you reach the house your husband and Luke head inside but you and Willem follow the sound of the bell back down to see if you can catch them before they leave the field. There, in the dusk, do you find them eating grass. If you get too close they startle, so you back up. Soon the oceanic feeling comes: the sound of the bell, the line of horizon, a salty dusk.

You have been to this town once before, pregnant. The last time you were here, he, now taller than you, floated six weeks in a pool of amniotic fluid inside you. This light at dusk, these same fields, your two bodies several now. You realize you've taken him back to the place of his becoming without intending to, without knowing until this moment that you were doing it.

Willem takes your head onto his shoulder to fit you into the frame of his selfie. He pushes your head gently up with his free hand and it stays here, his hand on your head. You realize you can float inside almost anything. Something lifts you from underneath. You can be the thing inside the vessel and someone else, your own son, can be the vessel that holds it, opposite of when you were last here.

Morning glass starts as a feeling under the sheet on your skin before you open your eyes. You know this feeling at eight and ten. At twenty and forty it is still recognizable.

A lot changes but this doesn't: a quality of no wind. You slip on your clothes--while you do so you return from the nakedness of sleep into the quicksilver of thought. If you don't find something to put on your feet you go barefoot. You walk toward the end of the street where you already know the water is glassy: because of no wind, because of the blinding heat, because of where the tide was the last time you turned your head toward the ocean on your way home. As natural as the last time you checked the thing inside you that beats such a steady rhythm, noting in it waves, small or large and steady in your chest.

Because they are not yet eroded to nothing you walk through the hot dunes until your thighs burn. Finally you see it: a silver sheet of gelatin. The waves that come don't break so much as fold noiselessly back into the calm surface of their making. Doing so they form a perfect shape. During the long hot day you know the morning glass will disappear and the waves will lose their definition. But for now there is quiet and perfection and the possibility that you are part of it.

You walk slowly out. Your body in this water approximates the nakedness of sleep. Waist deep, then chest deep. Then you are swimming, the rhythmic, familiar pull of the body by the arms. The water, too glassy to resist you, holds you up and moves you quickly far out. Like the waves your movements don't disrupt its surface. You say hello to the thing inside you that beats its steady hum. You are a small thing floating on the surface of morning glass.

Carol Ann Davis is the author of the poetry collections Psalm (2007) and Atlas Hour (2011), both from Tupelo Press. Her essay collection The Nail in the Tree: On Art, Violence, and Parenting will appear from Tupelo later this year. She is professor of English at Fairfield University, where she is founding director of Poetry in Communities, which serves communities hit by sudden or systemic violence. She lives in Newtown, CT, with her husband and two sons.
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Author:Davis, Carol Ann (American writer)
Publication:The American Poetry Review
Article Type:Essay
Date:Mar 1, 2019
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