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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/1963705-Manhattan-Beach
Rated: 13+ · Poetry · Experience · #1963705
A poem about lifeguards
The first three drafts of this were all love poems:
One each for a hometown, a best friend, and a girl,
None of whom really exist

And I hate talking about myself so much that the fifth draft might be about
The Pacific Ocean instead


I
When I was fourteen, the only thing I loved more than surfing or sleeping in
Was fighting battles I knew I never had a shot at winning

So one night, when I saw the full spectrum of the Southern California sunset
Split white right through my living room,
I stumbled from the wreckage and ran for the water,
Figured the worst the sea could ever do was drown me,
Thought it would just swallow me whole, lose me hoodie to high tops in cold and grey
And the song of sirens, wash the inkstains from my hands and
Fill me with absolution, fill my very cells with love and saltwater
‘Til they were drunk and content to burst out in shame and forgiveness,
The current coming in to claim my body for Atlantis or, better yet, home

If the tide had risen then, there’d be no trace of me, but
There is


II
The words come easier if I make this about the ocean-
It’s easier talking about waves crashing against rocks than
Elbows crashing against jawbones,
To talk about the siren songs of myth instead of real ones from real ambulances,
Let me talk about tropical depressions instead, white whale obsessions instead, and
Seas full of trouble for people full of hope when it was all really the other way around

At least this way, this way
We can say the addicts we’ve loved went down noble captains of sinking ships,
Draw anchors on their eyelids and tell their families that they drowned beneath the weight

And when we bury them at sea, the screams of the surf will
Drown out the whispered cries we only speak to curse ourselves
And we will lose our tears in the foam before they hit the ground


III
It’s not that I have anything against gangly teenagers sitting high in white wooden towers
With a pair of red swim trunks to match their wife-beater burn lines,
Desperately trying to wring some social confidence from
The whistle around their necks-

It's just that, the surface of this planet is about 71 percent water,
So when 96 percent of us spend our lives 97 percent landlocked,
I just feel like we could find a better way to call people “lifeguards”,
Even if it meant we’d have to pay them more than eight dollars an hour


IV
There's a scar on my right wrist, a reminder
Like a teardrop hitting concrete, a small, grey reminder
Not to be the same kid who just sat there when they came to help him, didn't say anything
Just pulled on his sleeve to hide the burn marks as the sirens on land pulled up
To take me somewhere safe down PCH with them

Even with all the traffic and an IV running through scar tissue,
There are some drives in Los Angeles it’s impossible not to fall for


V
Sometimes I miss my ocean so bad that even the Hudson looks beautiful


VI
The only time I’ve ever seen a body in the Hudson or the East,
I was walking through a film set, and you couldn’t tell what was man and what was river
Because they were both the same sick shade of khaki,
And they don’t care that there’s no romance in these waters


VII
As much as I love the coast I came from, this city became a home
As soon as I knew it was willing to be considered as an option,
Until I found a school that would teach me how to help people and
Roommates that would let me in when I forgot my key

So I got a scholarship and a psych degree, an internship and a hotline number,
And when rent got tough, I strung a whistle around my neck and got a job at the Y
That part stung, but it's never hard finding shifts- this city is always looking for more lifeguards


VIII
Saltwater makes for decent antiseptic,
But it's a lousy painkiller


IX
You see, the nice thing about hiding behind ocean metaphors is how they’re kinda like
Actual oceans in that people find them impressive and exciting and so
Incomprehensibly deep without them ever actually having to mean anything


X
Do you know what happens when lightning strikes scar tissue?


XI
There will always be something uniquely relaxing about
The feel of wet sand underneath your bare feet,
Looking over your shoulder up the coastline after every few steps,
Just to make sure the water’s washed away every trace of where you’ve been


XII
A few days ago, my best friend turned twenty-two
City kid born and raised, he says the world could begin and end in these five boroughs-
He doesn’t have a driver’s license, he never learned to swim

He still doesn’t understand why I got him a pair of red boardshorts and a whistle,
I just told him that it was a metaphor
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