The Innisfree Poetry Journal

by Kyle Norwood

Riding the Swells



Out past where the waves break, up to my neck, tensing then leaping

and subsiding, buoyed by the water, until the next great accumulation

lifts and washes me with salt, I remember how my joy accelerated

with each jump on that high-school trip to the beach, riding the swells

while I held hands with a girl I liked and, feeling the force lift us, we leaped

and subsided together, facing outward and hearing the sudden crash

behind us as we sank in the trough and the little children shrieked

as their sand-castles melted, and then “Oh my God, this one's huge!”

she said and we leaped stretching upward but still drenched

our faces, sputtering and laughing—all of this a build-up

to nothing, really, a wave too feeble to stretch

its rainbow of foam very far up the shore,

so that this rising and falling turned out to be the apex

of something that now, all disappointment washed

far into the past, seems complete in itself—the clutch and pressure

of fingers, our heightened voices, the tingle and thrust

of the swells that might very well have changed everything

for someone somewhere, farther down the beach.





He was a veteran: one ear

entirely gone

and half of one nostril;

the skin over his skull

marbled and patchy, gleaming

through hair thin as a newborn’s.


We were in college together

though he was much older.

I had to look him in the eye

or not look at him at all.

It was my fault if we became

no more than “almost friends.”


He referred to his disfigurement

only once

(and I didn’t pursue the subject):

he’d recently run into

his old high-school girlfriend.

After prom night,


he would have proposed to her

except “I couldn’t get used to

the way her gums came down

too far over her upper teeth. Well,”

he said with a tight smile,

“I guess she was lucky.”

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