Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Art of Drowning

Dawn clouds, Tucker Pond, Salisbury, NH, July 2003, Sony Cybershot, Exposure 1/80 sec @ f2.8, ISO 100, no flash © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

A good friend sent me a poem by this author (who served two terms as U.S. Poet Laureate), and as it always does, one thing led to another, and here is one of his that caught my eye.

Right now, my daughter and I are getting our scuba diving certificates -- so perhaps you see the connection ;-) Anyways, without further ado:
The Art Of Drowning, by Billy Collins

I wonder how it all got started, this business
about seeing your life flash before your eyes
while you drown, as if panic, or the act of submergence,
could startle time into such compression, crushing
decades in the vice of your desperate, final seconds.

After falling off a steamship or being swept away
in a rush of floodwaters, wouldn't you hope
for a more leisurely review, an invisible hand
turning the pages of an album of photographs-
you up on a pony or blowing out candles in a conic hat.

How about a short animated film, a slide presentation?
Your life expressed in an essay, or in one model photograph?
Wouldn't any form be better than this sudden flash?
Your whole existence going off in your face
in an eyebrow-singeing explosion of biography-
nothing like the three large volumes you envisioned.

Survivors would have us believe in a brilliance
here, some bolt of truth forking across the water,
an ultimate Light before all the lights go out,
dawning on you with all its megalithic tonnage.
But if something does flash before your eyes
as you go under, it will probably be a fish,

a quick blur of curved silver darting away,
having nothing to do with your life or your death.
The tide will take you, or the lake will accept it all
as you sink toward the weedy disarray of the bottom,
leaving behind what you have already forgotten,
the surface, now overrun with the high travel of clouds.
Yes indeed.

No visit to the pearly gate;
no judgment meted out by an over-worked apostle;
no flash of insight to help guide your baby-choosing adventure on the next merry-go-round.
Just the “high travel of clouds” overhead.

Let us not forget that while we are still breathing.