Keetje Kuipers

The Oar

All adventurers have contingency plans.

Say a man chooses the sea, wants to feel the wind
           curl under his coat sleeves, wants salt
       in his eyes, wants deep swells he can ride
  like his own unbroken pony.
                                               But he’s afraid

of the bottomless: someday it might pull him under,
            tumble his bones into rocks for polishing,
        split his belly like a seed bag of pearls.
   It’s happened before.
                                     So he’ll clutch

at what he can in the moment of his wreck—
            a board, a box, an oar—wrap his body around
        its single thin hip, cling haplessly
   to the merciful object
                         that floats.

But when a man tells you this in bed after he’s had his very
           last drink, are you the oar? Or is it the drink?
      As if one is less an act of desperation
           the other.

Who knows what his name might become in the morning:
           drowned, lost, pulled from the waves.
      Staying afloat isn’t a plan, isn’t any
  kind of

Even you, in his arms, have to try not to be afraid.

Keetje Kuipers

Keetje Kuipers has been the Margery Davis Boyden Wilderness Writing Resident, a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, and the Emerging Writer Lecturer at Gettysburg College. Her first book, Beautiful in the Mouth, won the A. Poulin, Jr. Prize from BOA Editions and was published in 2010. Her second book, The Keys to the Jail, is forthcoming in 2013. Keetje is an Assistant Professor at Auburn University.