Today's poem is by Jennifer Michael Hecht
Three Boats, One Afternoon
It’s a flood and the water is up to the first floor
windows and most of the many are gone already.
At his second floor desk, the man protests calmly
that life will save him. Now he’s on the roof
watching the water edge up the eaves, and a boat
goes by. Inside, tiny mottled people hail him in.
He demurs, Life will save me. Then another
boat, and another, and all the time more water.
Finally, the tide overtakes his feet and his heart
and his nose. Dead now, and angry, the man
screams out at life, How could you thus
betray me? Life shows up, like God
in the book of Job; says, I sent three boats.
How many boats? It seemed like a fleet.
Years ago, when we’d likely die by thirty-five,
the first boat in the harbor must have been
an ideal ride, but now, for instance,
no one ever dies. There is always something
wrong with the equation, since, after all, everyone
dies. Also, there is the possibility of swimming.
At his second floor desk, the man protests calmly;
then he’s on the roof, watching the water.
All right, fine, I’ll get in your boat, says the man
this time, tamed by his last demise. Now he’s wet
and shivering, bailing rain cups out of the keel.
His house, by now, is gone, no way to go back
to its sloping roof and drown on it now. He
imagines its thick backyard brambles,
its hyacinth, its capacity to soak up days
of rain. From this ludicrous predicament,
the boat being drowned from above, the bailing
man lets out a moan regarding the quality
of his choices. What can we now admit?
Commitment to a course of action,
or perhaps two. Three boats? One afternoon.
Now he wonders whether he picked the right
boat and where they’re going. Where will
he live? The simple fact of having saved himself
blurred by the ongoing peril. Tiny mottled
people in the other boats nod him in bypassing.
Somewhere in the expanse of water behind him
is the square half-acre that once was home.
At last, in the boat, rising rainwater overtakes
his feet and knees and nose. Once again,
as in the other version, down he goes.
The argument for one choice over
the other turns out to be the value of a daydream
dreamt in the course of his day-long lifeboat
ride. The dream was of himself bounding upon
the exploding and yet foreboding clouds,
soothing them with his easy stride until they
were fair and pale again, and turned to air.
Copyright © 2005 Jennifer Michael Hecht All rights reserved
from The National Poetry Review
Reprinted by Verse Daily® with permission
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