Underwater Explorer

by Bethany Carson

Just below the surface
Of the six baths I’ve taken
These eight years
Since my children were born,
I become the stonefish again.

The other mothers
In the sea of air above
Move like bright fish—
Flash and quicken.
They are singing mermaids,
Jeering sharks.
Even their shadows
At this height,
This depth,
Their teeth smile
Or gnash,
As a mother’s should.

But we
Who are the stonefish
Have only one still face, stare
At the sand,
Feel the easy water slice
Against each of our spines—
That liquid flow cut
Over and over
By our backs that are a thousand knives.
We who are the stonefish
Hear our own heart thud
Against the ocean floor
Like a smothered clock.

From the world above the water, though,
Where the sun moves
And the moon,
I have learned to sing the mermaid’s song.
I listened for years
from beneath the surface
Until I had it right.
And now I sit with my son on his blue bed
As he turns the pages and recites:

Cone fish, box jelly, angel fish, eel.
When he grows up, he says,
He’ll be an underwater explorer.
Will he someday find me there,
In my true form?