? SLAB | Sound & Literary Art Book

Issue 2


Daniel Donaghy

Nockamixon Lake

Far from the city that closed on us
like a fist all June and July,
away for a few minutes
from the family reunion
and its cooler of iced Millers,
I pencil dove into the lake
with all of my clothes on,
my body stiff as a nail
as it cut through the water
that darkened as I sank,
bubbles rushing up like smoke
as I sliced down and down,
pushing up with my palms,
driving deeper into what
we never felt in those row homes
set like teeth along greasy avenues––
not freedom exactly, but something
like it––a boundlessness
my lungs ached against past
mud-silted sunnies and bass,
beneath the staccato of outboards
and screaming children,
my father’s black lungs drifting away
with my mother’s black eyes
and her cries in the hallway at night,
the Sisters of Saint Joseph
vanishing when I closed my eyes
to their Bible passages
and the prayers we said by rote,
sinking past drowned logs
until my foot wedged between rocks.

On the bottom of the lake
I hung like a balloon fighting
to free itself from a greedy boy’s hand,
flailing my arms in the cloud I made,
squinting against the vise closing
in on my temples, looking up
to the sky’s white rim along the surface
where like a bird a beer can fell,
the twig of a cigarette, and then my father,
who couldn’t swim, fell face first
toward the last bubbles I could push
from my nose and mouth.
He held his arms straight out
as if across a canyon, roaring to me,
touching first my hair, then my face,
my eyes leading him to the foot he freed
from the leather basketball sneaker
he’d worked overtime to pay for.
When he patted the back of my leg,
I pushed off and burst toward
the exhausted air above the lake,
my arms churning like oars,
thinking even then only of myself,
not knowing until later how
he’d known where to look for me,
how he’d calmed everyone
before he dove by swearing
that he wouldn’t come up alone.