To my Aunt Cathy, who is no longer allowed to drink vodka

It was as we played king of the raft –
bobbing the way it did,
always half-swamped with
the translucent green of the little lake,
and all of us shouting, thrashing,
sending the fish to the bottom,
the sun shining our suits,
our shoulders and necks
matted with tangled hair,

you watching from shore
with grandma and the great aunts,
smoking under sun hats,
scraping your heels into
the wet sand, yelling,
‘you kids be careful out there!’
and ‘no pushing!’
as if it did any good –

that I understood for the first time,
looking back toward shore,
your certain sort of smirking
half-smile, your eyes flashing low
as if surely you were about to
get away with something,
some kind of glorious chaos
about to reign down.

And then it did,
with you running, diving
out to the raft,
claiming your kingdom
for once and for all,
our near drowning in splashes,
sputtering laughter.

In the late afternoon,
you round us up:
arms, legs, purple lips,
dripping hair, water in our ears,
sand everywhere,
hanging our towels and suits
more or less on the line
and then settling us in,
one by one, now dried and

changed, warming slowly,
on the picnic table or swings,
with leftover lemonade and a bowl of chips,
as the day dissolves
into the darkening woods.

It is like this:
we tie to our small, washed out rafts
floats of strange shapes and abilities.
They are just what they are,
no less, no more. Even so,
we bargain with them, grab them,
tie them tighter, let them go.
We cling, pull ourselves up,
slip back, pull harder,
struggle to stay steady.

You can no longer eat peaches
or drink vodka,
or bite into just shucked corn,
your cane weighs you down
as much as it holds you up.
Your body sinking, sinking.
You heaving onto your raft,
tilting it hard,
and us shouting from the shore
‘take it easy out there!’
as if that ever changed anything.
Your lovely smirk now effortful.

The translucent green bubbles
will soon rise up over your head
and you will see them shining,
as I once did,
shrinking the sun,
breaking it into tiny balls
you can touch, reaching up,
then into effervescent veils
of light and shadow,
dissolving, in time,
into the black green.
Foreign, intoxicating.

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