The Whale Still Within
It is said that drowning can be one of the most painful ways to die.
When I was 12 years old, my friend David and I made it out of the undertow.
Our friend Arik did not and every day since then has felt like drowning,
like sinking, like being swallowed.
Recently, 20 years later, I set out to say goodbye to his ghost.
The memory of that day came back in pieces,
always I remember the phantom limb I grabbed while choking
on river water, or was it sham, or guilt, or maybe fear.
First the look on David’s when we reached the bank and Arik was nowhere in sight.
Second, the look on Arik’s mothers when she stared at me through salt stained eyes
and I could tell she wished I was her boy.
Third, the look on my own mothers when she held me crying,
thankful I am her boy.
Then I remember it all
How happy we were it was summer with no school.
How hot it was that day, the sweat sticking to our skinny bodies.
The surge soft drink I stole from the local convenience store
because it had enough caffeine to power a car.
The JNCO jean shorts I wore wide, like the mouth of a river, or a catfish or even a whale.
How Arik was our fearless leader, young Ahab
too busy chasing white whales to notice waves can kill just as quick.
How our parents warned us about chasing rivers or whales, but we were just kids.
Ain’t scared of shit because death was something that happened to other people.
I remember swallowing my shame, or was it river water
when Arik called me a pussy for almost chickening out.
How the sky that day was a mottled grey and blue
like the scales of a fish or maybe even the skin of a whale.
Then I remember the fear, the pure terror when the waves took hold.
The way the Ohio river tasted like shit, soot and sweat.
The way my body was not mine as I thrashed for survival.
Thinking only, I am just a boy, I am just a boy, I AM JUST A BOY!
I do not want to die, not here, not now in the belly of this horrid beast
somewhere between Jonah and Judas grabbing that godforsaken leg.
Or maybe it was just a log, or maybe a catfish or maybe a WHALE.
This is how memory will mix with PTSD. How when surrounded,
whether it be water or the sea within us, I will not know which way to swim.
This is where I find myself again and again,
trying desperately to write the last goodbye to end all the goodbyes
because I am tired. Tired of swimming, tired of sinking, tired of being
swallowed whole, boy into this man. The memory of that day now harpoon.
My heart now the whale that swallows all I love whole
After Salvador Dali’s “Persistence of Memory”
Endless sky over both
blue sea and barren desert.
A plateau rises in the distance.
Jagged is the face
held over an otherwise
To the left, in the foreground
there is a single tree,
broken at the top.
Though dead, it is still standing
as if to say, gravity is
a law worth forgetting.
A single limb protrudes,
upon that branch lies the face of time
A resting clock folding itself over,
A reminder that time is non-linear and
there is nothing we waste more.
Once, I believed your face would not fade.
That I would not in weakness
allow your phantom figure
to melt into memory. Now, a lifetime later
all that I remember is a smile and
I am not even sure who it belonged to.
Only the recollection of your small hands
finding my body a good place to call home.
My father hard at work outside.
as we fell hard into each other.
Two days later, you died. Left me to
sift through this jagged hour glass.
I remember watching them release the
balloons as they lowered your moonlight body.
Thinking to myself how beautiful they looked.
How hard it is to watch a piece of ourselves
drift away. The strings to keep such things
grounded now gone.
I can see them still.
Those balloons lying somewhere
In some distant wilderness
maybe over a limb or a rock
like one of Dali’s clocks.
A bartender, carpenter, teaching artist and poet, James T Blanchard is a man of many trades. He has had work published in Deep Water Literary Journal and Decades Review. He also has videos published on the Write About Now YouTube channel. He was also a member of the 2016 Baton Rouge Eclectic Truth National Slam Team. He resides in Lafayette, Louisiana with his girlfriend Chelsea and their two dogs, Jolie and Bam.