By Robert Pfeiffer
“Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears”-William Wordsworth “Ode: Intimations of Immortality”
You emerge once more into the world,
lungs aching for air as you breathe deep,
let the water fall from your face.
A fog settles down; your eyes burn.
Your daughter cackles with joy, eyes clear
behind the tinted lenses of her goggles.
She always been at home in the water, exultant –
couldn’t even get her out of the bath as a baby –
she’d start shivering, lips veering to blue.
This is how you spend your summer,
while you still can. Soon enough,
she’ll be here with her friends, worried
more about the depth of her tan
than with perfecting her cannonballs.
Today, four Adult Swims have come and gone –
your limbs are spent, but she is still happy.
The chlorine has done its work –
you close your eyes tight like a fever.
When you open them again, a chemical halo
encircles everything you see. Your daughter
swims once more into your arms.
One hand behind her knees, the other
at the small of her back, you bend and launch
her as high as you possibly can.
With nothing left to give, you watch her
rise, eyes widen, scream in laughter,
until she comes down, “apparelled in celestial light.”
My wife cannot stop looking at her phone –
she sent a text hours ago, but no response.
Three dots waved like water then dissolved.
And now: the spiral. Unsure of so much,
she is certain she has done something wrong –
overstepped some social faux pas, wrong tone maybe,
certain somewhere people are talking about her.
She will hear no different despite what I say.
Next, her appetite disappears like confidence –
untouched kabab slipping toward inedible.
And now, all the wrong memories are swirling
through her as if caught on the wind. –
time loses meaning, and everything is now again.
A lifetime of misunderstandings, awkward silences,
imagined estrangements roil underneath her flesh.
Her eyes can’t focus, her speech stammers.
She shrugs my hand from her shoulder.
It will be three hours before she clicks off
the light, sets her book on the bedside table.
But I know her sleep will be fits and starts,
the nocturnal blending of memory and reality.
And she will wake up tomorrow, the same
regrets pulling her like a coal black tide.
And she will roll over and look at me, apologetic,
embarrassed, and still the best person I know.
“Taking a Nap with You“
“… which is why I’m telling you about it.”– Frank O’Hara
There was a time
in what feels like a previous life
when we stayed in bed
all weekend if we wanted to –
before careers, parenthood.
We floated through our little universe
at our leisure, together.
Then, once our Layla came along
we’d lay her down
and slip again into the sheets
together, midday, exhausted
beyond anything we’d ever known.
But, as things do, the naps ended.
Years of domestic life, no stopping
along the trail we tread.
Even so, more than all the gold
sand beaches in the world,
more than steaming mugs of coffee
on snowy mornings,
more than the crisp air itself
swelling in my lungs,
I love those rare occasions
when the house is empty
during the day, and we lie down
on the couches to nap
a dog each nestled in the bend of our knees,
we set a movie to quiet
and we slip from consciousness
together, and return,
yes, return together once more
in the warm afternoon light.
The ceiling fan circles like the years –
one more trip around the sun.
“How to Keep it Going“
I think from time to time it’s probably best
to imagine your wife at the landing
on the stairs asking you for a divorce.
Severe, there, at the end of her silence,
hands on the bannister, a long exhale,
as beautiful as the day you met her.
Picture her there, with nothing left to give,
and you, on the couch, digging for the words
to make her believe you still have inside,
buried under all the years and heartache,
all that’s slipped away, that thing she once saw.
But all you have is words; if you somehow
could put the right ones in the right order,
you could make her believe in forever.
It’s that time of year
when the heat drags you to the bone –
the flowers give up and wilt,
and the lawn fades to sepia.
A tornado of gnats greats you
when you step into the morning soup.
It’s been twenty years
since summer was all swimming pools
and catching lightning bugs,
and staying up late.
Later, pickup games at the park
and girls’ smooth tan legs.
There is no leisure now –
you work all week long,
avoid the heat and mosquitoes.
You pray for October
as June unfurls before you.
By August, you’re spent.
But this year, in the heart
of the sweltering hellscape,
it comes down like a summer storm –
heat lightning right to your core –
now, there are fewer summers to go
than there have been so far.
How much time have you wasted
worrying about the weather?
Your daughter is almost ten now.
Someday, if you are lucky,
she will say goodbye and tell
people the kind of man you were.
We are all dying at different speeds.
This much we know is true.
There is still time to make her proud.
Get off your ass –
we may never again be this close
to that fatal heat of the sun.
Robert Pfeiffer has published two collections of poetry, The Inexhaustible Before, and Bend, Break. Individual poems have appeared in journals internationally such as The Connecticut River Review, Iodine Poetry Journal, The Haight Ashbury Literary Journal, The Flint Hills Review, Mudfish, The Fourth River, and The Concho River Review.
He received my MFA and PhD in Creative Writing from Georgia State University. He is currently a Professor of English at Clayton State University, outside of Atlanta. He lives in Decatur, Georgia with my wife, ten-year-old daughter, and two dogs.