I am eight and it is the summer like every summer

when we vacation at the river up north, where my uncle keeps a log cabin.

It is on this river

I learn to water ski behind his red boat that roars to life, the sound

I recall now when someone driving a sports car beats the light at the corner.

It is this roar that raises me from the deep to glide on the surface at a speed that turns

hair into a thousand little whips.

Back at the rectangle of sand that meets the water at the cabin, we are allowed to swim unsupervised,

(there’s just too much work to be done in the kitchen, to feed this hungry crowd.)

So instead of a parent to save me from drowning, I am burdened by a red life vest that chokes my neck and pushes up on my ears.

I also wear a pink rubber nose plug with a strap

that pulls my hair and prevents me from that burning sensation of water in nostrils.

Add to that, some white wax stuck in my ears.

I lay on a black inner tube, barely experiencing the water.

The natural scent of aquatic life now muted.

I am forty four.

Still plugging my nose in the local pool

when all around me, toddlers and preschoolers are putting their faces in the water

and smiling.

Perhaps all these years I still wear the apparatus, invisible, but still affecting how I swim.

So I decide.

To place my face fully in the water

no matter if it burns and I drown.

And it’s the easiest thing in the world,

to hold one’s breath in the water, with two hands free for swimming.

What is it that keeps the water out

This mystical invisible force

Of my breath held.

And is it possible to make an invisible barrier that bars entrance

to what I don’t want to come into my heart,

the things that burn on inhalation, filling lungs and sending me to the darkest deep

where I lay on the bottom and let the carp pick my bones clean.