Oliver de la Paz was born in Manila, Philippines, and raised in Ontario, Oregon. His book of prose and verse, Names Above Houses, was a winner of the Crab Orchard Award Series and published by Southern Illinois University Press. His second book, Furious Lullaby, is the editor's selection for 2007, published by Southern Illinois University Press. He teaches creative writing at Western Washington University.
There, just in front of the jetty, a boy had drowned
after a boat wake sucked him down. I know him.
To understand, to remember his name places me
among the several damned. It is of the best days.
The earth, fresh. The surfers practice
their cursives on the waves. That part of the beach
is cordoned off by yellow caution streamers
which click in the wind. Kids fly their kites by the scene,
while parents beckon them back to their proper blankets.
I am becalmed. The ocean pools around me
crossing itself back into itself. I too am
a boy and therefore, a camera — the glittering
sun-sea continuum is all I know of the world.
But it is not the world, and this shoal
has its share of ghosts. Each curl
comes forth to wash me, clavicle to femur,
my elbow tucked under my hand
as I hold my arm tight to my body. Stick
straight, I withstand each buffet, spray
on my lips and the cold fastidious fingers
of ocean water down my length.
Sand, like a thin mustard plaster on my back,
I shred the grains as I move. A scatter-fire of selves
leap into the water. I am trying my best
to wade to the boats, but the white
intensity of the sun holds me. Beneath me
does not look like the grave of anybody,
anybody at all. It is just green and loll. The diatoms
join and part and join again.
The gulls skirl above my head, sacramental
and in crescendo. They speak for my voice
because things are as they are. Slim islands
rise, just within my view and I imagine
the dead boy is there, reigning over a procession
of candles and crosses. His ankles
festooned with peonies and he is forever
twelve. I want to talk to that boy. I want to hold
his hand and walk headlong to the horizon.
I want the masts of the tall ships to not be
funerary wands but kindling branches
held aloft to steer us from the depths
of these deep seas. Let the blood in my body
drag me down awhile. Let the coral
and the moray eel open pathways for us in the reef.
Let me remember a boy who was a boy.