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after Birches by Robert Frost
Whenever I see sunlight freckling off
the Pacific, I look for waterboys breaching
the waves. You may have seen them,
skinny, pale, and shy, off the coast
on sunny afternoons. Whether breaching
for curiosity or to pass the time,
lacking wings, they immediately plunge
upon breaching like orcas do.
The persistent ones breach again and
again only to plunge back every time.
You’d think waterboys would find
our troposphere too desolate and dull
to be worth the effort even when the coast
is clear of predator hawks and trawler nets.
But to a waterboy the ocean’s a high school
of horribles: sharks bullying stingrays,
octopi sucking out crabs from behind,
whales gobbling up everything in sight.
Watch a waterboy breach and you’ll see him
kick his legs in sync as if one mermaid tail,
bend at the waist and plunge headfirst back
into the waves as if the rest of the sky he’d
just glimpsed above would be found below.
I believe that only special waterboys
ever come to admit the truth: plunging
after breaching will never get you
to the sky—the only way to the sky
is continuing to rise upon breaching.
But no waterboy is born able to achieve
the velocity needed to continue rising
above the waves. One waterboy, too shy to
chase seals, whose main joys consisted
of brief breaches while swimming around
alone at night, streamlined himself
till not an earlobe dragged, not a hair
resisted speed. He gave up all else to train
until one night he breached escape velocity
and jettisoned headlong into the air.
Upon clearing clouds, he continued to rise,
straight as a flamingo, into the vacuum,
where he settled into orbit with space debris.
Now and again, I contemplate returning to
the Pacific, if only for the joy of breaching
again. But my future’s in breaching the waves
of the sky. I’d like to escape Earth’s gravity,
breach the waves of dotted lights. A waterboy
could do worse than spend his time breaching.