Looking out the window of the hospital
across the courtyard
to those rooms over there—
that’s where we used to live.
the safe rooms, the chemo rooms.

Now, we are in Intensive Care
and Arlen is dying.
I stare out the window
and ache to see another time.

Hair dripping wet, dripping with diamonds,
hair transformed into a diadem,
each drop woven through your balding scalp a pearl,
a veil laid upon you, the bride’s veil lifts.

There they are, beneath the clear surface,
I see them, two small nearly naked bodies.
Arlen and his friend Daniel holding their breath,
diving to find the source of deep water
and if they can make it; two small nearly
perfect bodies that are so dear to me.

I could reach out & drag them back,
but I will not fear their adventure, I will
lay back, relax, let the poolside whirl pool me
to a moment poised between water and air,
where all is serene and in that instant I behold
what they seek. They dive to be the bubble,
the diamond caught within the water,
that often becomes trapped in the hair.

I dream I am in a boat.
I stare at the surface of the ocean
black, constantly patterned, shifting.
I dive into the water with strength
of purpose. One part of my mind
wants me to hold my breath as dream
water surrounds and threatens to crush me.
And then, I gasp & discover I can breathe.
I dive deeper and deeper until I reach
the canyons of the seabed. I am seized
by a knowledge that does not share itself with me;
the mountains of the depths rise about me
emerald, glass, as I descend into smoke & gloom;
I follow the seabed until I find a giant iron ring
set into an enormous stone trap door.
Gargantuan, it seems impossible to open,
yet, I swim to it and lift it with no effort.
The ocean empties into the ethereal kingdom
that shines, beckons and tells me, in its fashion
that I am the prince of this hidden land,
and I am returned to my righteous stand.

Parallel ripples drift across hot water,
before they fall into cool. I drift in the hot tub
as the boys compete in the pool—who is fastest,
who can hold his breath longest, who can
do the most somersaults, who can dive
deepest. I am the judge. Lolling on the edge
of the hot tub whose water spills
into the swimming pool, I watch
them descend. Daniel’s hair pulses about him
like a sea anemone—Arlen has no hair, only wisps,
strands too fine to be considered even seaweed. They
return sleek and wriggling, attended by air bubbles,
kick wiggled little boy bodies, eyes bulging,
“Did you see?” “Did you see?” “I saw,” I say.
They demand, “who won?” Should I tell them
the truth—the truth— that I didn’t notice? I rule
magnanimously, “I win! I win as long as you
are with me.” I declare judiciously, “try again.”
Grabbing the pool edge, they heave themselves up
pantomime deep breaths, Dizzy Gillespie cheeks
bulge and they dive, a repeat, bodies refracted
by the current of their passage, magnified,
now telescoped as depth comes into play
and they return gasping, demanding to know.
“Again,” I tell them, they descend, water
twisted lines of light, pool liner blue bright,
chromed ladder dappled shadow, glare, pause
the moment for the boys to return. And what if they
do not? What if they choose to remain suspended
in the fresh water pearl of a perfect day—
who would blame them —and suddenly
I watch afraid, ask, when will Arlen surface?
Two shining faces swim back to me, bubbles
stream from their nostrils, eyes bright
with their play, doing their best to teach me
to be unafraid.

I want to reach beneath the surface and drag him out.
If only I could elongate like an eel, an anchor, a tube,
a reel, and then what? grab him by what hair is there?
yank him back to me safe and whole? It is me who gasps,
struggles, claws to return to the surface. Arlen is serene,
suspended beneath, above me and I cannot reach him if I try.
He is floating, suspended between joy and mirth and I
am ahead, below, still clinging, tied to earth.

The boys are in the hot tub—Arlen’s thin
strands of hair leak diamonds across his face,
and his sparseness is wound with watery jewels
that shine at each juncture until it seems
he wears a precious glittering net over his head
as women did in days of ancient wealth,
legend and song.

Watching your child die is like
watching a great puddle, left after
a rain, disappear upon the beach.
At first, it seems impossible it could
disappear, there is so much of it, but
as the sun warms the water diminishes
gently and by noon, if you were to go
for a swim, or look away for a moment,
it would be gone, faint ripples in the sand
the only marks where it had been.

When your child dies, you do not look away.
You want to hold him and to have him. You
count moments like people count the beads
on a rosary, praying there is no end to the cycle.
That is why the cross is there, to mark the beginning,
the end, and that is my child crucified before me;
lines run into his kidneys, tubes to let him breath,
numerous cuts that will not stop bleeding to allow
one last chance—but the beach is harsh
and there is no life for a puddle so far from the shore.
You watch the water disappear between grains of sand
leaving only a circle of wanting to have, wanting to hold.

Our first impulse is a need for words of meaning;
we read the twenty-third psalm over Arlen’s body
with its promise of the existence of God’s love,
its powerful plea, “surely goodness shall follow me
all of my life and I shall fear no evil”, and we cry
over his body, wash him & arrange him, now free of
electrical lines, bandages, tubes and mouthpiece. He is
normal again and we arrange his limbs in composure,
like you would rake a lawn before first winter snow.

I look at him and he is like a cartoon villain
stripped of his armour, now weak and harmless.
I am the Submariner, far from my kingdom,
powerless out of the ocean,
powerless outside of comic book stories
that follow any path they will, end and resurrect
whomever they wish, or just end and that’s it.
It’s finished and you never find out whether the hero
found his home, the girl, happiness. It’s over.

It is now and Spring has come. I walk through a new world,
struggling into being. I take photographs as I walk, trying to
compose portraits of perfection that then disappear, capture
moments of peace that I feel only as they appear to me
through a lens. I walk through the park in search of shadows,
graffiti, common grasses & saplings harmonizing in light rays
that point to one spot as if forever. I walk through each picture.
I stand in a puddle, shallow and reflective. I kick the surface, watch
the ripples, look through the view finder at the image of branches,
wires and sky above, see the man standing in the puddle, looking
through the camera. I let the camera go, reach down to him as he
reaches to me and our hands touch and disappear into each other.
The cold envelopes my hand, and as I withdraw it, the other man
retrieves his hand from the sky. I stare, uncertain what I am
to do, where I am to go, only sure that the water will not release
that which it has claimed its own. Arlen is dead and I am not—
I will find eternity in time, but first I must paint a portrait.
So I do.