for Elena, at 10, 07.06.21
She comes to me, wearing her cat pjs and her earnest asking face.
Momma, can we go for one last canoe ride before bed,
just you and me? Please? Sometimes the look behind the eyes
is so urgent it stings: It’s not just the ride she longs for me to say yes to,
but: Do you want to spend time with me? Do you like me?
So we grab our sandals, slip silently out the side door,
run giggling in the feathery dusk, down the worn path to lake’s edge.
Soft scrape of canoe against sand, then slosh and ripple as we slide out
over still skim of water, cabin window glow shrinking behind us.
The sun drifts down, yawning over the water,
and the last light silhouettes her in front of me, rosing her hair,
angle of arms pinning paddle to lake. There they are:
broad shoulders, sharp jawline, profile like her dad’s,
now the long torso and curve of waist, a shadow skimming liminal
between cat pajamas and crop tops, between asking and telling,
between Come with me and I’ll go alone.
What a strange thing to make something out of yourself
that is still nothing but mystery and not yours at all.
We turn around, stir the silvering surface, point back to the bay.
Overhead, the ghostly call-and-response of loons echoes for miles,
back and forth, announcing the coming dark and starlight.
They sound to me like creatures who know grief,
who understand that the right song can hold
praise and awe and ache, all at once.
The loon closest guards a nest, wary, and we swing wide.
She spears the water and vanishes, but seconds later,
we catch the blink of her sleek body in the clear water,
torpedoing under the canoe, wraith and warning.
My daughter gasps. Mom, did you see that? Here and gone, but so beautiful.
I feel her wide eyes looking at me, hear the wonder in her voice,
the whisper we can’t help as witness to what is wild and fleeting.
I nod, look around, look at her, hoping for one more glimpse,
wishing to be held gentle in the spell just a little longer
as shore and cabin come closer. Yes, I did see her. So, so beautiful.