First Taste of the Sublime
by Jennifer Davis Michael

I don’t recall my first view of the beach:
my terror at the blank expanse of sand
and that tremendous, always-moving water.
No silent movie footage of me bolting
for the motel’s sliding door, or burying
my face in my father’s scratchy neck.
But there’s a photo of my hooded self,
snug, smiling in the nest he dug for me:
a tiny sea enclosed by shoveled walls
— infinity made comprehensible.

I do remember two or three years later,
he took me in the surf up to his waist
and taught me how to float there, on my back.
The water chilled my ears and muted sounds,
so that I felt the waves but didn’t hear them.
His hand stayed on my shoulder, reassuring,
until a gust of wind blew off his cap
and he lunged, letting go of me. Just then
an upstart wave, whipped up by that same wind,
broke over me. I choked and came up crying,
cursing him in the wordless way of children,
but he was there. He’d never been away.
And yet, in that split-second of emptiness,
by opening his hand, he’d let me feel the sea.

PHOTO: The author, circa 1970, Gulf Shores, Alabama.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Davis Michael lives in Sewanee, Tennessee, where she teaches English literature at the University of the South. She has published poems in Mezzo Cammin as well as a book of criticism, Blake and the City.