When I heard my mother’s voice
for the last time on the phone
I said I’d be there soon.
That’ll be nice, honey. Bye.
Then she stopped smiling, stopped
eating, stopped talking about the rain.
Before I arrived she was already swimming
the channel of dreams toward that beautiful shore,
awash in the waves of a soft blue blanket,
the deep breaths of her last laps
audible in the room.
As a kid, I remember watching her
at Daytona Beach, out beyond
the breakers where my father and I rode
the canvas raft, swimming up, then back,
white bathing cap bobbing like a gull
on the blue. I never feared for myself,
dumped under by the churn, rising
with a mouthful of crushed shell,
sputtering to breathe, but I was anxious
that my mother swam too far out, too far away,
that the current was too strong,
that she could not swim back.
Her stroke was sure, steady, unfaltering.
Even though her father drowned,
she loved her buoyancy in the ocean.
She did not believe in evolution.
I believe she retained fins.
When I saw the surf swelling,
thunderclouds rumbling in, I called
to her as she stroked back and forth,
back and forth. She never heard my voice.
She heard the hymn of the waves, rejoiced
as they rose beneath her like a final
heartbeat, lifting her on their feathery curl.
Mother, I called, as she dipped
out of sight, Mother, swim back.