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beside the koi pond

trying to breathe underwater—

if only, if only

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We were better at it then.
On the muddy desert river
in our yellow rubber boat,
you would sit in front
and I would sit in back
and as our bow
would slide onto the glossy
slick tongue of the rapid,
we’d begin to sing.
Opera. Neither of us
knew a thing about opera,
except that it made us feel
invincible to sing the highest
notes we could hit and to hear
each other trilling just above
the white roar. We thrilled
at the edge of chaos. Joy
in our ignorance. Confusion
did not seem to have the same
bite it does now when you call
me to say the surgery is Wednesday
and you’ll know then if the three tumors
are malignant. I do not sing
when you tell me. Nor after we hang up,
unless you call whimpering song.
Which perhaps it is, though I do not
feel brave, standing on the edge
of this new chaos, you in front
again, this current much stronger
than we can paddle against. I feel
our humanity, how the end is all
wrapped up in the middle,
the beginning, how little we know
and how fragile we are. I look
out the skylight at the buds
on the cottonwood trees.
They are swelling, though not
yet green. They do not resemble
what they will become,
but experience tells us
to expect a bright green unfurling.
We have no experience now
with what comes next. But we
do know how to sing a high warble,
trill it high above the hospital hum.
I am rusty, but mustering the voice
to sing to you from here,
even though I no longer believe
it will keep us from sinking.

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