Timothy Thomas McNeely
So now we sit, the older boys and I
awaiting rescue, beached way back from shore
a hundred yards from solid steps. Too far
to shout; too long to wait for tide to come.
The kayak’s stuck and difficult to drag.
The open, plastic, two-man boat’s crammed tight
with boys, who, wandering Case Inlet south
down North Bay out from Allyn all misjudged
the daily inequality of tide
and tide and intertidal zone extent.
Or, really, it was me. And so I send
the older one to squelch and slide his way
back shoreward, fetching help for all of us.
When I climbed out, I sank down ankle deep.
My second son enjoys the wait with me.
We watch the herons hunting fish, adept
at balancing desire and patient poise.
Across the bay, the oyster farms are marked
by buoys. Hills of shells are on the beach
ignored by seagulls, circling instead
the fishing dock up-bay from us toward town
the north Olympic foothills green behind.
Our world below is blue and brown and black
and smells of salt and age and rotting weeds:
the one’s the freshest air I’ve breathed all year;
the other’s all biology and brine.
The tideflat mud is strewn with mudflat snails.
Their tiny party hats in gray point all
directions. Supersaturated sand
obscures the black-green, grasping mud below.
We watch the slender-fingered freshwater
go find the sea through folds of sand, most clogged
with seaweed, seagrass, oyster shells: their husks
half-buried, barnacled and bound in muck
beside the carapace of red rock crab
and scattered claws. It panics me to be
so stuck. Much closer in, the barnacles
and broken shells predominate. And last,
it’s only rounded rocks, bisected here
and there by bright green succulents and sedge.
When she comes out to rescue us, the mud
is slippery and gluttonous and breaks
her flip-flop: snaps the strap and sucks it down.
We heft the boat together, drag it back
toward shore. Now pausing, switching grip or side,
our bare feet slide beside the snails, against
the oyster shells encrusted white.
The snails do not regard us, our bright hull.
At last a sandbar thirty yards to go
seems good enough. We haul it up and leave
it there while the tide continues out the bay.
I watch it all through the afternoon, unsure
it’s safe from, what, the pirates? Wear and tear?
I fear it will just up and walk away.
But when my brother goes to take it out
just after supper, two of them just pull
a couple feet at most and launch again.
They paddle out an hour, return at dusk.
The late spring glowing evening light’s alive
on gold-green hills and upper windowpanes.
The Puget Sound is washing bottom steps
of decks, and swimming seems half possible
the tide is in so high; the kayak could,
I like to think, glide right into the house.
Timothy Thomas McNeely was raised in the Pacific Northwest and studied poetry at the University of St Andrews and the Hugo House in Seattle. Now a husband and father of four, he works in federal education program management and continues to write to capture the landscape.