Too Far Out

Stevie Smith (1902 – 1971)

Not Waving But Drowning

by Stevie Smith
Nobody heard him, the dead man,   
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought   
And not waving but drowning.
Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,   
They said.
Oh, no no no, it was too cold always   
(Still the dead one lay moaning)   
I was much too far out all my life   
And not waving but drowning.

I  recently traveled to Colorado in March where the sun shone every day for 9 days in a row, only to return to the coldest, cloudiest, dreariest April I can remember in Minnesota.  It has made the wait for spring intolerable.  Its not my imagination.  Hostas’ that had been given some encouragement by several 60 plus degree days in March have re-entered hibernation, shivering at the surface of the ground, waiting for May to venture forth further.  We shall all have to be patient; robins, flowers and people, snow flakes falling for the third day in a row outside my window, out of what feels like spite by Mother Nature this late in April. 

I think many of us have felt like we are drowning at times this past year,  while pretending to our family and friends that we were waving.  The problem with this image of drowning is its a myth, its not based on reality.  Its the way people who can swim picture that those that can’t must look like when they are in trouble.   Most drowning victims go down like a stone, silently, the first mouthful of water a liquid muzzle that stifles any call for help.  No hands waving above the surface, their hands below the water line wildly trying to swim ineffectively, with only a couple of ripples remaining after they disappear.   It is with such ease that many people drown that onlookers are shocked when they realize what has happened. 

Several April’s ago, I was reading the Sunday paper and there was a headline on a three inch column in the Star Tribune that caught my attention; Man drowns in Bob Lake.  The short article was more public safety than news column, a reminder on the need for life jackets while boating, particularly in the spring when water temperatures are cold and the risk of drowning increases.  The authorities had been called several days before when a dog, cold but alive, was recovered floating aimlessly in a canoe on Bob Lake. Steven Tickle’s body was recovered a short time later.  Mr. Tickle had been a long time resident of Edina and loved by his family.   It was ruled accidental. 

Sipping my coffee that morning, this poem took shape.  I was drawn to the idea of a stranger writing a requiem for a man he never met, a fellow canoeist.  For anyone that has ever canoed and attempted to exit a canoe in the middle of the lake without tipping it, the circumstances brings questions to one’s mind.  After a bit of thought the poem became a discussion between a man and his death.  I decided it was something I hope someone might do for me someday.   

Thinking about it made me ponder; what kind of death would be appealing to me?   A private, quick one, while I am still active and enjoying my life, sounds like it would be at the top of my list, about 25 years from now, or let’s make it 30.  Cold water is anesthetizing.   In some ways there are things appealing in the mystery of Tickle’s death; the solitude of the lake, the peacefulness of a canoe, the suddenness of it.  My mind was drawn to acceptance of a man and his undoing.   

Love I Leave Behind

by T. A. Fry

Bob Lake swallowed Tickle,
Took Tickle fast with ease.
Nary laugh or giggle,
As Tickle coughed and wheezed.

Bob Lake said to Tickle;
“Below this surface rest.
Hope may spring eternal.
But Death’s at my behest.”

Tickle swallowed Bob Lake,
Knew it was his end.
For it was, too late to take,
Caution as his friend.

Tickle said to Bob Lake;
“Tell love I leave behind.
Life’s been grand for goodness sake,
And your waters kind.”