Unsteadily, I stand against the wash
Flooding in, climbing thigh, waist, rib-cage. Turning,
It sweeps me, breaststroking, out on its swift
Sudsy withdrawal. Greenly a wave looms;
I duck beneath its thundering collapse,
Emerging on the far side, swimming hard
For the more manageable, deeper waters.
How the sea elevates! Pausing to tread it
And feather-kicking its profundity,
The swimmer wears each swell around his neck,
And rides the slopes that heave through him,
The running valleys that he sinks across,
Part of the comprehensive element
Washing as well now the Galápagos,
The bay at Wenchow, the Great Barrier Reef.

Why, then, this ache, this sadness? Towelled off,
The flesh is mortified, the small hairs standing
Among their goosebumps, the teeth chattering
Within the skull. A brutal century
Draws to a close. Bewildering genetrix,
As your miraculous experiment
In consciousness hangs in the balance, do
You pity those enacting it? The headlands’
Blunt contours sloping to the oceanside,
Do angels weep for our folly? Merciful,
Do you accompany our mortality,
Just as, low to the water, the pelican
Swiftly pursues his shadow down a swell?

This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 6 Number 2, on page 48
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