My cousin had a rope swing over a country stream.
On summer days we used to run out over the water,
feet kicking, arms locked to the chest, arching a weightless, pendulum
through the mid-western sky to return from flight
to the shore. One smooth circle from ground to air
to ground. We played Peter Pan until the sky turned red
mothers called “Supper” from the porch, for our red
ruddy faces to be washed in the cold stream
spilling into an ancient white porcelain basin. I lived in air
the way fish would if they lived on land, a watery
ambassador to earth. I knew that swing, I could fly
that circle so well I could feel the warm, familial curving
of air on my body lying sleepless on my dorm cot. The Curve
never left me. One night when I was 21 my cousin and I drank Red
Dog by the creek. A campfire’s staccato retort. “Time to learn
how to fly,”
he began the old joke as the fire broke the silent stream’s
black surface into gold and silver ripples, the water
a mute sinister slithering mamba snake sniffing the air.
I put my
beer down, laughing at the sky, stumbling, the night air
crisping my bravado. I could hardly stand, but I knew that Curve,
I knew that swing, I knew that circle like my lover’s arms, the
river of my soul, water
of my being called out to trade gills and legs for red
feathered wings. I clutched the rope and kicked out a clumsy take off
over the stream.
No horizon, no sky or water or land. Only a cocoon of whistling atmosphere.
in the dark.
The dark?!? My reason revolted mid flight,
my feet dipped low in distress, weight shifting as I spun, sliced air,
sneakers spraying black droplets across the nose of the black snake stream.
I panicked, clenched, screamed, jerked, disrupting the Curve,
the circle askewed at the flash of hidden rocks, a splash of red
and my pale, white neck like a fish belly’s watery
natural world of the swing became wordless promises of a watery
hell. Icy fingers, unseen, snatched at my blind flight.
I was lost without my familiar Curve, but held on in sightless void, red
cheeked and eyes clinched. Jerk. Stumble, feet had earth instead of foreign
Aunt’s flowerbed, not the runway grooved from countless completed
My cousin laughed at my silence. He had not seen the stream
of my tears,
my red raw hands streaking blood on empty curved
aluminum cans. A million perfect flights washed clean by seconds of dark
at my heels. The stream babbles as my childhood dissolves into air.