One Friday at the beginning of June
I walked a path along a metal post fence shaped in wide, oblong A’s—
All that stood between me and the edge of a cliff
Blotched with the red tops of green, reefy plants,
Picked at by the beaks of matching birds,
Their small skulls laced crimson feathers.
I watched the surfers weave in and out of the ocean's rollicking enormity,
Pumping their boards up and down against rolling crests,
Pushing hard to pick up speed.
Out of the corner of my eye, meanwhile,
I sought to steal some glances,
Make some trysts I admit
Would see me browsing Craig’s List
For any I might’ve missed.
The day was overcast.
The color of steel gray that made the blue sky shine yellow.
Hot enough to burn red if you didn’t watch it,
Or borrow some bottled mix of sun block like I did
From a friendly, long-haired chap who was scoping waves, spying
On the height, breadth, and depth of the elements
He’d be diving into soon enough.
I was struck happy by his courtesy:
“Take as much as you’d like,” he said.
I did, thanking him and moving on to find a family—
A mom and her three girls, teenagers—
Emerge from a cleft of rocks like mermaids.
The youngest one had a distant look in her eyes,
Like she had just been the unfortunate witness of something wrong.
Her eyebrows furrowed, head hung low
With a single braided pony tail curled around her nape.
I shuddered a bit and wondered what went awry.
And then I knew
As I soon saw from farther up the hill I hiked
People taking pictures below like anxious tourists,
Recording a thing they’ll never see except
In muted retrospect,
Without the death-stench of that baby seal
Sailing up and smelling of wet, dirty socks
Or a heaped mess of upturned sewage-dirt and rot.
The dead mammal, delivered as though an ill-fating omen,
Had me wondering how the scene would be different
Were a human corpse washed ashore,
Harkening the week’s end with a somber message,
Sobering families on vacation like that woman and her daughters visiting from Vegas,
Slapped awake from their California dream
By the plump smack of blubber hitting sand,
Likely confused and severely disappointed as in those first blinking moments
Between toxic half-sleep and jittery-stomached hangover.
The seal, as far as I could tell, was decomposing in flags of loosening skin,
Peeling off in a net of holey flab while the round thing’s blubbery body
Rolled about the beach where it plopped to corrode like a weathering landmark,
Signaling what else lie in waste at sea.
I stood there, leaning against the rail, guessing
At what ruin or reward the off-shore giants have portended for you and me
Back at the car, an invitation was waiting,
Flapping in the wind.
I later plucked it from beneath the windshield wiper to read
In big congratulatory letters from someone named, Ty,
An advertisement for Hollywood Paws' complimentary
Animal acting workshop and evaluation to have taken place
The following Sunday.
I thought, then, about lovers luckier than us
Who would be wrapped around each other like a caduceus,
Twisting their bodies in the spiral after-glow of Saturday night
And its lingering humidity, painted in short, panty strokes of steam
Across bedroom walls echoing the ecstasies of such little deaths
As I can just barely reproduce in dreams.