david hockney
Was This Rapture?
a life in three parts
by Dustin Pickering

I have begun to laugh—
laugh like the winds of the harbor
that bend the light sideways,
and tempt the blossoming cheeks of young girls.

Don’t break me so carefully
because I was harsh.
I have seen a strong invisible reality
without a face.
At six years old, I jumped into a swimming pool
but I was at the wrong end.
My head bobbed, my mouth filled with water,
I began to suffocate:
was this rapture?

My aunt, tending me during that shifty year,
jumped to the middle of the pool
and pulled me out.
I had drowned.
My breath stopped.
She performed CPR for a few minutes
until I coughed up the water
that might have filled my lungs—
I cried, “What took you so long?”
as if I had made it to the other life
and waited to be brought back.

I wasn’t the only one.
Years later, my dad visited my Texas apartment
and we all drove to Freeport beach.
A hurricane had passed through
but now the air was silent and empty.
The sand was snow white.
The sand was snow white,
and I found the most delicate things of the sea.

My life!
There was a full shark jaw in one piece—
and I gently salvaged it from the sand,
gripping it in pride.
I pulled one tooth from it
because I would not carry such a heavy thing.
I pulled one tooth from the beast
and my dad said, “You could make a necklace!”
What? Carry this fearful thing on my neck?
No, this is testimony to my courage
in facing the winds, in walking the warmest of sands.

Some years later a recurring nightmare
still keeps me in rapture.
I swim alone in a pool, giant as a gym,
while the darkness and dread cover the air,
almost sepia and sick.
Somewhere there is a hideous thing,
a shark terrible as a whale
that could devour my tepid body
like candy in a child’s hand.
I struggle on the pool’s edge—
I sense the inevitable.
The shark comes so close I only kick the waters
harder and harder, panting in surreal panic—
but, but I am alone.

IMAGE: “Dive In” by David Hockney (1978).


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dustin Pickering is founder of Transcendent Zero Press, a Houston-based poetry publisher. He is published in Texas Poetry Calendar 2016, Seltzer, The Tower, Cavalcade of Stars, and other journals. He was a Special Guest Poet for Austin International Poetry Festival in 2013, and a feature for Houston’s popular reading series Public Poetry that same year. He has artwork in Yellow Chair Review. He had an interview with Kiriti Sengupta published in India’s The Statesman. He is currently working on an anthology on the theme of Selfhood, to be released with Hawakaal Press.