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