Drowning Under the Perfect Wave

Two poems by L. A. Johnson

Drowning Under the Perfect Wave

Waves of the California Coast

Mavericks, where surfers compete to slide 
 	        inside the emerald room of the largest tube. 
Pescadero, where girls drip tinctures under 
 	        their tongues to sleep awhile, while boys 
hide bottles in glove boxes. San Onofre, 
 	        where a hushed shore conceals riptides, 
a low current counting down to danger. 
What to collect at the ocean's edge: 
 	        the foam of the tide's lip; a cut that stings, then scars;
 	        brainless hour of surrender; a stone for skipping 
I float the afternoon away,
a net the length of California
traps my tongue.  
 	        My crowned teeth
catch like metal fishhooks. I think
of the man, his veiny touch
in a room where ice melts.
A wave  
       breaks across my back hard 
as a sheet of glass. I'm not a surfer
or a swimmer, my skin uncaught
of rapture, 
 	        his wet mouth inside 
some grocery store, some elsewhere
orchard. Here, bubbles are briny 
flowers. Here, the current leads home. 

Surfing at Night

Midnight, into the sea, I paddle, divisions 
       between water and sky blurry
             as I navigate without horizon
shivering, searching for a heavy wave to surf
       before it breaks into whitecaps. 
I am scared of sharks, rip currents
       that threaten the night like thieves,
             and that breath could be my coffin
inside the naive sleep of the sea. I strip off
       my wetsuit, skin prickling in the cool.  
A wave curls me under. All the drowned
       before me spin, their voices gagged,
             airless bubbles that break  
without sound. They hold the quick tide
       like a rein in their hands, threatening  
to rush me to the sea floor. Above me, shadows
       vibrate, my legs twist in the spin cycle,
             the hour disappears, reappears.
At last, my head breaches, life unsunk. I hear
       my own voice trembling, and unashamed.

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