The Sea is a Place

The sea is a place 
where in our current year 
young bodies in their early twenties 
lie in the sand, 
half-naked, attempting to tan their pale backs.
They have returned 
to tell stories of what they have seen, 
having moved across the sea 
to make a home elsewhere, 
to study on other shores, 
before they return,
if they return,
to their native one
to ensure that it blooms. 

It is a place 
where young expatriates
bury their siblings’ light-coloured legs
in the sand when playing.
They must use more sand now
than a few months before.
The kids have grown. 
Sand falls onto disposable plates 
with half-eaten cherries, leftover kernels, blueberries
as they try to recall which berries 
were their siblings’ favourites,
uncertain if the preference has changed 
whilst they were away, 
elsewhere by the sea.

The sea is a place 
where they build a tent 
from a shipwreck leftover 
washed up on the shore, 
eaten by salt and rust. 
Combined with mother’s blankets, towels, 
swimsuit tops, planks found nearby, 
the wreck makes a shelter 
from the summer wind,
battering through layers of thin jackets
lent by the one friend
who smartly recognized 
that warm weather prognoses
are a deception.
They decorate the self-made structure 
with branches, green
and young as their minds 
before they’ll be solidified 
by midlife crisis.

It is a place 
where Soviet soldiers 
tilled the sand on the Baltic shore 
every day 
to ensure that no spies were arriving 
from the sea, 
and that these youths’ parents
were not trying to escape 
over the sea, overseas, 
to the lands of Free Speech 
and Western sneakers.

I look at the sea now
struck by the strangeness of knowledge
that it is the same shore, 
the subject of daring sarcastic jokes,
Why are they tilling that sand
if nothing will ever grow here, in this land?
The same sea
across which my father 
tried to row away 
from Communism to a free Sweden 
in a found fishing boat 
and, aiming for the far invisible shore,
made it only to a fishing village 
near at hand, Red, 
as everywhere once on this coast.
His arms were so tired 
that even the Western allure
could not persuade them 
to raise the oars once more.

The sea is a place 
where in our current year 
youths in their early twenties 
meet for a 1980s-themed event,
clad in denim and leather,
their energy equating ten power plants
never to be locked down,
not due to security 
or environmental concerns.

Bare feet on cold ground 
in pale sunset light, 
a month after Midsummer, 
when the nights are still bright
and the magic hour lasts for two.
A passer-by fixes the youths’ picture 
in analogue form, 
before they dash into the water 
with 80s denim on, socks off, 
if only for a night, 
before they leave for overseas. 

Young emigrants most, 
a few who stayed, 
they walk unworried to lose 
the footpath home 
over the dunes as
they locate elbows to cling to 
in the dark, 
led by touch not sight
in determined ruling that, 
If we trip and fall, we trip and fall together,
wincing as pinecones threaten
to split open their feet.

They reach the shore,
four run into the cold summer waters 
naked to meet salt and stone,
while two choose to stay behind 
let breakers cool only their feet,
as they walk and speak
of subjects to their natural affection
parents, siblings, teachers, mentors, friends,
those to whom they return for Christmas,
to whom they write
from overseas.
Safe and strong is the night’s navy blue
under which, elbow to elbow, they amble 
and wonder 
what determines which relationships swim
and which must drown 
for youths who move from shore to shore,
to which one will they return. 

We decide to head back,
me and him, this friend not seen for long,
to meet the swimmers
left behind on the shore,
the silent water moving us  
in its capacity to reflect the truth,
its clear-cut resistance to falseness,
same as how we are talking now,
at home, happy, sincere, safe at last, 
submerging dishonesty as a sin
to be drowned.
I look at the sea now
and pray, in quiet,
to have the same unbounded strength 
to move people as waves do, 
yet without drowning them 
in violence of unbridled feeling,
a flaw I admit sometimes being guilty of.
Now, prayers are a private matter,
not to be disclosed or voiced,
and yet, breaking this principle, 
I can tell you, friend, blatantly, 
that I pray to be a wave still. 
A wave not hell-bent on destruction 
but on lifting those who dare to touch it. 

I pray to never drown sincerity
in foreign waters telling otherwise;
to not fear expressing natural affection,
even when it puts me at risk
or is tarnished by suspicious interpreters;
to be less dreadful and cold in the rare moments 
when I give into astonishing anger;
to never forget from what waters I hail,
while letting them be joined 
by other streams as I move and learn; 
to never allow deceptive currents 
sway mine from their natural direction
and to have such clarity of mind and heart
that, even if they do, I may swiftly find a path back;
to understand what currents make me act in certain ways, 
to not be led by them indiscriminately 
but with ability to navigate which flows I follow, 
even if they are turbulent ones;
to not burn out for a third time 
desperate to justify mine being away,
as I pull out a map and explain to a seven-year-old
by which shore his sister will be, 
away from home for 9 months,
why it is her want, need and choice 
for good, rather than an attempt to hurt him; 
to not burn out to the point 
where speech gives way to water,
there is no air,
one cannot move, swim, think, nothing, 
just paddle somewhere
on the brink of consciousness,
that I could never quite rationally grasp 
only know that it makes eyes grow dark 
and turn downward in shame 
that your own self is failing to function
as it normally has and ought to;
to have the greatest degree of calmness 
and affection with respect to the most violent waves,
to the people who lack it and 
have had their lives stirred up 
all too violently to know any better;
lastly, to never lose the sense of awe 
in which I look at these waters 
now as we walk,
though they have been seen a hundred times before.

May those who choose to cross seas 
eventually find their shore
and may those who try to swim 
succeed, not drown.

By Adele Bea Cipste