The Bathers, Cassis

It’s too hot to think much about the ochre cliffs of Cap Canaille
or the moan of a tour boat’s engines grinding through the aquamarine
                                                                                  of the Mediterranean.
I’m inside measuring the width of the white ribbon of the wake
like a long skin shedding itself from the exoskeleton of a Zodiac boat,
assessing valuations of finitude among my household property,
gazing at the bathers as they take turns diving off the limestone promontory
                                                                                  below and to my left,
lazily frog-kicking through the cerulean waters of Port-de-Cassis.

Their bodies are pale as salamanders as they scoot through
                                                                                  the zaffre and viridian
back to the rock-toothed shore where they pull themselves up,
amphibian-like, stunning the air with their glistening bodies.
It is a sensate joy that releases like ecstatic vapor
                                            from off their skins and sea-drenched hair.
A hand has touched them and pass’d over their bodies,
                                                                     but not over mine.

If I were to walk a serrated shore, worn by wind and the idylls
                                                                                           of companionship,
I’d be twenty again and arrogant as Icarus
making survey of his father’s domain,
scanning the surface of the sea for a boil of sardines
glinting like a scatter of coins.
Preposterously, I’d glance neither to my left nor to my right,
and launch myself straight into a dive of my own,
unshowy and silent as I cut the immaculate waters,
joyous only in the theater of my own being, alone
as the brown salts that dry on the stoic, limestone lips of the sea,
unconsecrated by touch, the liquidinous mask of my face
submerged and upturned, trailing shrouds of sapphire and indigo.

Copyright © 2018 Garrett Hongo. This poem originally appeared in Kenyon Review, November/December 2018. Used with permission of the author.