When their skirts swell in the flouncing water
like the thick wave
of a stingray, and their hair
grows weedlike on their cheeks,
and their eyes
are as swift as shoaled fish,
that’s when I know
I’m needed most.
Their limbs slacken,
then grow taut: there’s a seabeast,
instinctual, in us all.
The water foams their thighs,
and they stumble when they stand,
their own weight foreign to their footing.
Sometimes their toes break through the surface
in pink panic,
and they grip my hairy hand.
But we wear black, slick as performing seals
and we stare seaward, count the rhythm
of the breaking waves,
we guide them into shore.
The children aren’t as strenuous.
They’re used to abandonment