Saturday, February 20, 2010


Not Waving but Drowning

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.

--Stevie Smith, 1972

How long can one flail about, searching for a hand to grab onto before giving up and sinking under? That old trick where you kneel in the lake, water up to your chin, appearing about ready to drown, and then, just as you gain attention, just as you draw somebody's eye, just as a hand is reached out to you, you stand up, and your savior feels a twinge of irritation, an urge to scoff. How many times can you cry wolf before everyone in town stops listening to you? You use up the chances, thinking each time this is the last breath of air you will be able to gasp before you go under, and no one is more surprised than you that you've surfaced once again. Then, when you get into really deep water, you regret those previous larks, those little experiments in how to lose your credibility.

Maybe you stop waving. Maybe you don't want to pull anyone down with you or maybe you don't think anyone has noticed at all how far out you've drifted, how big the waves are out here, how stiff the undertow.

The struggle to keep your head above water is tiring, never-ending, cold, numbing. You tire of hearing your hands splash the water, you tire of the seaweed tangled around your ankles, you tire of spluttering to stop yourself from swallowing the water. Maybe you could float, relax, allow yourself to drift. If you could just find a calm patch to rest in, lying on your back, looking up into the sun, stop trying to make way and instead just be.

Would the waves push you gently on to shore, or pull you under to roll along the bottom in the sand? Either way would be a relief.