My hand used to be there, under his soft belly.
Upheld, he was free to flail and flounder, learning
the how-to and the why-not. Free to terrorize both of us,
while it was all still fun. The learning and the watching.
It’s terrible, the letting go. They swallow the sea,
and the sea swallows them. So small and sink-able.
That kind of watching is prayer, when you can
only wait for them to meet the self that insists
on breath, on life. The self that will keep them afloat
and alive until they find their own way. Up and out.
Now I am ancient mariner mother, and my boat
carries me further and further away from him,
though I am still shouting instructions. Always instructions.
Now I am a speck on the shore, hand to brow, still watching
and willing him to emerge from whatever stormy sea holds him
in its grasp. Rough-tumbled, but whole. And wholly himself.
I see him there, shadowed by sea mist
and distance, but standing, and shaking himself
free of birth-waters and befuddlement. Slipping
out of boy-skin. Striding into manhood.
Some kindness in him gives instruction now.
Some grace from the past turns his gaze backward
for a moment’s search, and a sighting, of something
great and imperfect. Waving him on, waving goodbye.
I wonder, does he hear my cry, mingling with
that of the gulls, raw and raucous, the way joy can be
sometimes? Or has the wind swallowed it; making it one
with the sound of the sea, the music of memory?
Familiar and unceasing.
Zoe FitzGerald-Beckett lives in Appleton, Maine, where she writes, collages and gardens. Her work has been published in The Sun, Pen Bay Pilot, Zest, Maine and SageWoman. In 2017, she was the recipient of the first prize at the Plunkett Poetry Festival at University of Maine Augusta, for her poem “On the Edge.”