With rod and tackle box,
I'm slogging through soft sand,
a red sun going down in the surf,
swag-belly clouds drifting in
with Ray, only two months dead,
going on about girls that summer
we studied French in Québec and
guzzled Labatts at the Chien d'Or,
about how he'll marry again, keep
at it until he gets it right—Pas vrai?
Above the tide wrack, a woman
in a two-piece with half my years
kneels struggling in the sand
with a pillow of feathers,
one wing flapping—a pelican
tangled in fish line, treble hook
in the bill pouch, the other in its wing.
Ray says, Ask her out for a drink
but she says, Could you give me a hand?
I drop the tackle and secure the wing
while she croons to calm him and
with one free hand untangles the line.
With pliers from the tackle box,
I expose the barbs and carefully clip,
a total of six loud snaps. Then I hold
the bird while she frees the last tangle
and we step back, join the onlookers,
a father explaining care to his kids.
The pelican now tests his wings, rowing
in place. He looks around and seems
to enjoy the attention, just as Ray did
in bars, buying drinks and telling jokes.
But this college boy with a can of Bud
is no joke and says they watched it flap
all afternoon from that deck on the dune.
His buddy agrees with a belch
that buys a round of frat boy laughter.
Ray tells me the kid needs his clock cleaned
just when the pelican waddles up
and puts his soft webbed foot on mine.
He tilts his head to catch my look, then
flapping runs into the air, tucks his feet,
and climbs, turning over our small circle,
before heading west. Dazzled and dumb,
I'm faintly aware of the woman, then gone,
weightless and soaring over water, looking
down on myself slogging through sand,
certain that I'm being watched,
if only by another self
who will have to tell how it happened.