For Johnny Pole On The Forgotten Beach by Anne Sexton
In his tenth July some instinct taught him to arm the waiting wave, a giant where its mouth hung open. He rode on the lip that buoyed him there and buckled him under. The beach was strung with children paddling their ages in, under the glare od noon chipping its light out. He stood up, anonymous and straight among them, between their sand pails and nursery crafts. The breakers cartwheeled in and over to puddle their toes and test their perfect skin. He was my brother, my small Johnny brother, almost ten. We flopped down upon a towel to grind the sand under us and watched the Atlantic sea move fire, like night sparklers; and lost our weight in the festival season. He dreamed, he said, to be a man designed like a balanced wave... how someday he would wait, giant and straight. Johnny, your dream moves summers inside my mind. He was tall and twenty that July, but there was no balance to help; only the shells came straight and even. This was the first beach of assault; the odor of death hung in the air like rotting potatoes, the junkyard of landing craft waited open and rusting. The bodies were strung out as if they were still reaching for each other, where they lay to blacken, to burst through their perfect skin. And Johnny Pole was one of them. He gave in like a small wave, a sudden hole in his belly and the years all gone where the Pacific noon chipped its light out. Like a bean bag, outflung, head loose and anonymous, he lay. Did the sea move fire for its battle season? Does he lie there forever, where his rifle waits, giant and straight?...I think you die again and live again, Johnny, each summer that moves inside my mind.