The Spirit that Tears Us Away from Ourselves

CampethanA whistling night wind
picks up off the lake
rustling our dinner napkins.
Breakers start rolling in
to pound the rocky shore
in the darkness below.

The day was so calm this is unexpected.
“Better check it out, Pops.”
Sailing tackle rattles on the pipe dock
and Ethan heads down to retrieve it,
his efforts illuminated
by a blast of September lightning.

The roar intensifies
muting the thunder
and I join him, drenched already.
Windward at dock-side
our Boston Whaler bucks wildly
as waves swamp her stern
and crest over the old dock.

Old Whalers never sink
they just take on more and more water,
turning into floating battering rams
twice their ordinary weight.

Kneeling I grab the boat rail
to block the onslaught
while Ethan bails.
The gale drags on
in unrelenting fury.

I don’t want to lose her on the rocks again.
I keep my thoughts to myself.
“Keep bailing!” I yell.
Under my raw knees I feel the dock shudder.
The pipes wobble in the dark
with each sickening blow,
leaning to leeward
as timber begins cracking
under the boat’s assault.
We’re in harm’s way.

Ethan heaves the careening gas tank out of the boat.
In no time the night surf sweeps it off the dock.
“Grab it!” he yells.
I jump in and wade after it,
wrestling with its dusky ruddiness
as lightning flashes around us.

Then the gray bucket blows out of his hands
and vanishes in the wind.

“Get a rope, Dad! I’ll pull her out.”
I dash out of the water with the tank
to untie a clothesline I can barely see.
I want to believe in him.
I know I’m not strong enough to do it.
It’s beyond my grasp.

Ethan does it.
He pulls the old Whaler to safety,
swimming a one-armed sidestroke
out to the mooring buoy
in the seething storm.
Only by the light of day
do we see
two shore-trees blown down.

The lake is still by then,
but I’m numb, blocked up, shaken.
Who likes living in these shades,
when there is nothing in you,
not even yourself?

I summon the face of my despair.
I want to feel gratitude and pride,
to breathe that subtle air
that Odysseus plied
in his blessed desperation
on a wine-dark sea–
man of twists and turns.

His radiance now has risen in my son.
I have no way out, I find,
except in the immensity
we live in:
inside my blocked-up heart,
where his patient strength is my worthiness,
in a love and joy beyond measure.

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