Shall I say I have drifted in silence
with the leaves on this creek
I have lain in quiet solitude
with these bleached logs.
Shall I say I am the wind
and have seen the river
into which the creek flows
and the sea.
and only this,
and a young man throwing rocks
In the South Pacific Ocean
I held my breath, plunged in
and swam deeper into the water
to get closer to the schools
of White Tipped Sharks
huddled at the bottom of the ocean.
With my flippers,
I pushed myself
deeper into the water.
The now useless snorkel
was my only reminder of air
as I kept going,
with only my mask for navigation.
Though the moving sand
did not entirely obstruct the water,
the sun grew less intense
the farther I traveled.
Just remember to not
get too close to the sharks,
I had to keep reminding myself.
I almost froze
when I spotted the Stingray.
They work so hard
to avoid being seen,
so they can surprise they prey
and have their next meal.
I spotted it,
but it made me stop.
It surprised me
that I had come this far,
and nothing but a little water
separated me from animals
that could seal my fate.
I stared for a while,
that I needed to get some air,
so I turned toward the light.
I had been underwater so long
that the oxygen was pulled
from my muscles,
and I didn’t have
the energy to kick.
When you become acutely aware
of your desperate need for air,
your body plays tricks on you.
I forgot about looking back
at the sharks and Stingray below,
I even forgot about the Sea Lions
and Lion Seals above.
I’ll deal with whatever’s on the surface
once I get there.
Now, get yourself to kick.
Think. You can do it. Push.
I managed to kick my legs once
and started to move my way
through the water.
I hoped momentum
could keep me going,
but nothing was fast enough
You can do this,
I pushed, I moved,
but the surface
still seemed miles away.
Now I know there’s twice
as much hydrogen around me
but oxygen is so much bigger
Oxygen is the most abundant
chemical element by mass
in our biosphere,
in our air, sea and land.
But I can’t get to
the oxygen in this water.
I can’t let this be
the death of me.
My chest started to tighten.
My chest started burning,
like someone lit a match
and the last oxygen in my body
was setting my lungs on fire.
I clenched my teeth tighter
around that snorkel mouthpiece.
I know I couldn’t breathe yet,
but I couldn’t let this piece go free
and possibly move my mask
while I was trying to
Come on, I thought.
Your legs are strong.
You can do this.
So I pushed again
until I could see
a few people
trying to swim toward me.
I tried to keep moving
until someone threw their arm
around my waist.
I hoped they would be able
to breathe for the both of us
until we broke the surface.
I remember feeling
wet sand being pushed against my skin
as they dragged me out of the water
until they let me lay on my side
so I could cough.
I had no water in me,
but I had to do
anything I could
to give myself oxygen again.
Once I was able to breathe
I tried to think of my breathing.
I know I can’t get oxygen toxicity
by breathing too deeply…
Take a deep breath.
Get the oxygen to my blood.
Your toes are tingling.
Inhale deeply. Now imagine
your oxygenated blood
rushing to your feet.
The oxygen’s to your brain now.
Keep thinking, mentally pushing
the oxygen throughout your body.
When I got back inside that evening,
they had started a fire
in the fireplace for me.
And I thought, how fitting.
I was stuck in the water,
with all that hydrogen and oxygen,
until I could have some oxygen
to breathe again.
We are over half water as it is,
meaning the majority
of our mass is oxygen.
And there I was,
now at a roaring fireplace,
with oxygen fueling the fire.
how on this one day
a basic element like oxygen
could help me go
when I’ve never been before,
could warm me up
at the end of the day,
and could show me in it’s absence
how crucial is was
everywhere in my life.
When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy’s been swinging them.
But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay
As ice-storms do. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun’s warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust–
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You’d think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm
I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows–
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father’s trees
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer. He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.
So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
It’s when I’m weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig’s having lashed across it open.
I’d like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth’s the right place for love:
I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.
I’d like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.