How to Bury a Boy at Sea

Above us, the sky lost all its natural hue and roared
with a force that shook us from bow to stern.
The time for splintering drew near.

The lightning flashed and, for the first time, he looked scared.
It was an expression I knew so well, having seen it in the water
staring back at me for years, through every kind of weather.

The waves barked and the wind laughed, for we were children
adrift and aimless like a bubble, one whose very being
could be snuffed out amid the casual violence swirling around us.

And then it happened. The ship began to crack apart like glass.
We were separated, truly, for the first time in memory,
like a passenger watching an ancient homeland fade from view.

I was the one who shattered the boat. I was sick of the saltwater
slowly poisoning my cells, depleting me day after day.
First, I whispered. Then I spoke. After, I shouted and howled a ferocious tune.
He had caged me here, and I had agreed to be caged, because
I thought cages were safe. They are not; they are merely a tool
used to keep us from being in our natural state.

He staggered, grasping for me or anything to hold onto,
but scooped up only rainswept air and disappointment,
precursors to his ultimate watery end.

I was floating on the wreckage as he gulped his last.
I didn’t move. I didn’t have to. All I had to do was be.
And then he disappeared, a sun forever hiding behind clouds.
There I stood, at last alone, with only one
more body to shed, this boy who lived a lifetime inside of me,
carrying a greater burden than anyone could bear.

This boy slipped out of my skin, billowy and white,
and closed his eyes in peace,

having shown valor beyond measure.
I kissed his forehead, then smoothed his hair and thanked him
for living long enough to see this day, for being
both a boy and something more, something sublime.

He and the boat sank down and I became enveloped
in the water, in grief, in joy, in song. And I started to swim
back to shore in the light of the morning.

Phil Goldstein is a poet, journalist and content marketer who has been living in the Washington, D.C., area for a dozen years. His poetry has appeared in or is forthcoming in The Ideate Review, In Parentheses, Awakened Voices, Amethyst Review, The Galway Review, October Hill Magazine, Constellations, The Indianapolis Review and Rust + Moth. By day, he works as a senior editor for a content marketing agency, writing about government technology. He currently lives in Alexandria, Va., with his fiancé, Jenny, and their animals: a dog named Brenna, and two cats, Grady and Princess.