Once in Puerto Rico, I held on to a rock ledge for fourty five minutes, refusing to jump into the lagoon below. My friends shouted encouragement and strangers offered kind advice, until finally the man I loved crawled up the rock face and stood behind me coaxing, “This is not a metaphor!”
He said this because he knew that I had already found a way to equate this failure with all other failures, knew that my mind prison is a tangle of labyrinths, with unwarranted symbolism around every stubborn corner. I laughed because it was so accurate, and also because if I died going down those would be the last words I heard.
Instead, I jumped and survived. And that night in bed he wrapped his arms around me and whispered, “it was… a metaphor. Me, I am the metaphor. I climbed up because I believe in you. Because I love you and I knew that you could do it. Because I will climb up when you need me. Because you did need me.” And he was already asleep before he could answer, leaving me to stalk my own hallways for the meanings of the clutched rock, the shaking legs, the racing heart, the fall, the smack, the coldest shock, and the man who climbed up to tell me to let go.
Not even a year later, he has moved into someone else’s body. And I am alone on a beach in Washington. I have come here to hide from my sorrow. To try and write poems that do not lead back to him. Instead, I find myself watching a pack of young man throw stones into the air, before swinging giant bats of driftwood smashing them into the water. The thwack, and pop, and plunk, echoing up and down the otherwise empty beach.
And yes, the name of this beach is Useless Bay. And yes, the men are swinging as hard as they can, of course. And yes, it is twilight. And yes, I am all alone. And I do not want these metaphors. I would give them all back if I could. Even if it meant a rainstorm would forever just be a rainstorm, a ladybug on my arm simply that.
Still, I would trade it for this relentless wait of meaning. This unfair promise of always finding pattern where there need not be any – let the young men be just young men, and not my heart forever swinging. Let the water be just water, and not the vast loneliness, let the driftwood be driftwood, let the bay be unnamed.
Let the sunset not be my time running out but only the hour of the day. Only the indication that bugs will soon be out.
That the young men will pull on their sweatshirts.
That I should be heading home.