A golden afternoon, late summer;
the neighbor children wander home,
their hair is damp, their skin is dewy
from the bleach-clean depths of the local pool.
Only a few short blocks home;
wrapped in towels, their feet are bare,
Mom last, bringing up the line,
already glancing at her phone
to see the shots she’s taken there:
her sons and daughter learning how
to swim across those shallow depths,
to pant to get that deeper breath
before they push off from the side
and press their bodies through the blue—
the way they gasp at the far end,
then turn to be sure that she’s seen:
it’s not real without her witnessing.
The pride they smirk, to feel less fear,
when launching their brown bodies high
above the deep below the dives
shimmers in their reddened eyes
walking home now, happy, tired,
their small lithe bodies glistening
in this golden afternoon of summer.
They’ll fall asleep right after dinner,
be carried limply up to bed,
their mother, almost accidentally,
smelling their still-chlorined hair:
the bleach-clean depths of the summer pool,
the child-smell underneath like bread,
that same smell that makes a dad lean down—
even though he knows, he knows the signs,
he’s seen them in his neighbors, friends,
and yet he cannot stop himself—
to smell the still and much-loved head.
The shakes hit then, first from weeping,
then as the nerve remnants take hold,
the smell of shit and human meat.
A golden afternoon, late summer.
We have our children, have our homes.
We cannot make the dead not dead.
We can't seem to save, deter, protect.
We scroll through updates on our phones,
and wait to see which path of death
our choked elected will elect.
Children, learn to hold your breath.