Poems

The Kayak and the Eiffel Tower

Winner of the 2009 Pushcart Prize

The white sheet I remember, flashing across
the bed and I was watching my mother and the crying
and the bed disappeared and all was white
but it was not snow, it was my mind, and then, oddly,
she took us in a taxi to the movies, I think
it was Ben Hur. It was his postcard, now I know,
from that woman in the Philippines, back when
he was a soldier. All this, a movement
of shapes, nothing to hold onto. The kayak
is like that. It slides through the water and the paddle
goes on one side then the other, and there is the sway
of the boat and then the correction. It was
like that, and it was like the Eiffel Tower, all filigree
and lace, because I couldn’t see anything solid,
but of course it was night and the movie was over,
I guess, but I remember the feel of her body,
her coat against my coat and the sidewalk rough
the way a child remembers the sidewalk: closer
than it will ever be again, grain after grain, and down
inside the grains, the press of earth that made
the grains, and the grinding that broke them apart,
and there were cracks in the sidewalk, and I swayed
a little as if I were in a kayak, not breathing but
sliding through with my mind so far away it was
on a lake, far out, and the shore wasn’t the wool coat
my mother wore, not the coat, not anywhere.
And where was my father? Home, maybe, while
all this was rising from the bottom like a log, or a huge
gar, all the way to the top of the Eiffel Tower, while
my kayak dreamed its way off into some other story.

—originally published in The Southern Review