Water Touches the Quiet, Serious Ones by Martin Willitts Jr.

Water Touches the Quiet, Serious Ones
. . . . . . . .For my friend, Lindsey Bellosa-McCabe

A four year old boy rides his bike to the edge of the ocean
to watch the ships with three lowered sails
rock and lullaby on waves. The water touches his toes
and the ship’s bottom, connecting them. He listens to the water
slip back and forth like naked feet on bike peddles, the sound
arriving long after the surf oozes on his feet and retreats
like sundown. In the distance, the ships rise and lower
like a boy peddling on small hills, coasting and catching wind,
the tassel-ribbons on handle bars streaming schools of fish.

He sees this ocean every day — no two waves crashing
or ebbing the same, no two displaced identical seashells,
no seagulls with the same circling pattern or number.
Sometimes, the horizon is empty; the air is still; the ride
on sand easier; the sounds each dissimilar from the next
and sometimes matching his own heartbeat, his own
heartbreak, his own stepping on the brakes,
the breakwater always falling back differently.

And the ships move over the water to where he cannot see them,
head towards another shore, maybe racing just for the sport of it.
Maybe, the ships are exploring the coast line and see the white house
with the green tile roof on the high bright-emerald hill, or maybe
they see the boy on the bike through binoculars, waving to him,
not understanding why he does not wave back —
when really, he cannot see them. They are not connected.

Life moves at altered paces, some slower than others.
Some ride waves of air or water or over sand or feel
the wind full of salt on their face or count sailboats
or find small crawdads. Somewhere from the house,
a voice calls trying to rise over the surf-smash. Somewhere
in the sand, a sand dollar is waiting to be found.
Somewhere, a seagull is overhead disguised as a cloud
or a white sail or a memory. Somewhere, my heart is pedaling,
the wet sand that slows me down until I notice the landscape —

the boy that could have been me; or I could be on the sailboat
curving the horizon and chasing the sun sinking into the ocean;
or I could be in the house, wiping grime off the windows,
to see the shifting day, the splash of moments, the waves of light.

Water always touches the strangely quiet, serious ones,
grinds salt into the searching skin, echoes wave
after wave of wavering light and water. Life sails with
or without us, taking and receiving and repeating the process,
drenching us with learning. And we never understand it,
not really, not the wild ride of it, not the catching wind of it.
And then, it is gone — like a boy riding into old age; or
a sailboat finally tied to a dock; or a house emptying
when everyone moves out like a crab outgrows a shell;
or the waves to suddenly stop; or the coastline disappears.

by Martin Willitts Jr.

Martin on Facebook

Editor’s Note: In this beautiful poem, imagery is layered into a complex portrait of ocean, simile, and memory (or possibility).

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