My Father in Virginia, Surrounded by Water
That morning he was homesick.
My mother slept on, her neck scored by a slow pulse.
In Chicago before they married, they visited
the aquarium to dull that ache
with watery light, my mother’s hair like a long satin slip
sculling when she walked ahead—
she was always walking ahead.
In the trailer’s hall, my sister and I sailed in laundry baskets
on matted carpet. I had already choked on and spit up
a penny. His life was not what he thought it would be,
but he drove us to the beach that day, waves sliding up our heels
like a serpent’s tongue and snapping away,
where into the evening my father looked out as far as he could,
until the bluest distance was a pin-prick of ink
and the ocean’s cusp foamed around his feet.
He imagined the sky tucked into the water’s belt was Lebanon,
his parents’ scowls rippling
all those miles, barbing his skin, and he pressed his back
to his American family, let the surf guilt him a little longer,
rubbing its salt into his ankles, hooking and reeling,
while my mother netted our dripping bodies
in sun-warmed bath towels.
It was then my father made an oath only the ocean could hear:
he would not move back, he told the cresting mouths,
would not leave my mother, her sun-screened neck
white as a Parthenon column, white mast in the exact moment he loved her—
at the aquarium when it seemed she might float beyond the glass walls
and the leaning crowds, out the concrete carapace,
how the Great Lake wrinkled,
how his brackish heart towed behind.
Ruth Awad received her MFA in poetry from Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The New Republic, Anti-, Rattle, The Missouri Review, Copper Nickel, RHINO, The Spoon River Poetry Review, and elsewhere. She lives in Carbondale, Illinois, with her two Pomeranians.