Learning to Snorkel in Lahaina by Ken Hines

Learning to Snorkel in Lahaina

The placid surf slaps our knees. My granddaughter
plucks a clump of hair from my mask—
a mother’s touch from a pre-teen. She tells me
to sniff hard, and the mask clenches my face
like an octopus. Just lie down in the water, I hear
her say, a voice as gentle as the sea.

I push out into the waves, the snorkel reminding
me of intubation. Below, a bed of coral bristles
with Butterfly Fish in their tiny bandito masks.
They flap across the reef like solitary wings,
shower of sunlight bouncing off their scales
as they move in mysterious synchrony.

The ocean floor drops away. It’s colder now. My
breaths shiver through the plastic tube. Masks hide
or disguise, but this one marks me for what I am:
an alien, an intruder. Treading water, I strain to see
past rolling crests sloshing against my face.

But she glides on ahead of me, stroke after
measured stroke like a dancer swaying in rhythm
to her song. No longer the child I remember
she stretches her arms toward some other world,
wondrous and fraught, beyond the one I see.

by Ken Hines

Editor’s Note: This poem’s repetition of the word see (and sea) skillfully illuminates the knowledge gained and lost as we move from youth to maturity.