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Children Walk on Chairs to Cross a Flooded Schoolyard —Taytay, Rizal Province, Philippines (based on the photo by Noel Celis)

Hardly anything holds the children up, each poised

mid-air, barely the ball of one small foot

kissing the chair’s wood, so

they don’t just step across, but pause

above the water. I look at that cotton mangle

of a sky, post-typhoon, and presume

it’s holding something back. In this country,

it’s the season of greedy gods

and the several hundred cathedrals

worth of water they spill onto little tropic villages

like this one, where a girl is likely to know

the name of the man who built

every chair in her school by hand,

six of which are now arranged

into a makeshift bridge so that she and her mates

can cross their flooded schoolyard.

Boys in royal blue shorts and red rain boots,

the girls brown and bare-toed

in starch white shirts and pleated skirts.

They hover like bells that can choose

to withhold their one clear, true

bronze note, until all this nonsense

of wind and drizzle dies down.

One boy even reaches forward

into the dark sudden pool below

toward someone we can’t see, and

at the same time, without looking, seems

to offer the tips of his fingers back to the smaller girl

behind him. I want the children

ferried quickly across so they can get back

to slapping one another on the neck

and cheating each other at checkers.

I’ve said time and time again I don’t believe

in mystery, and then I’m reminded what it’s like

to be in America, to kneel beside

a six-year-old, to slide my left hand

beneath his back and my right under his knees,

and then carry him up a long flight of stairs

to his bed. I can feel the fine bones,

the little ridges of the spine

with my palm, the tiny smooth stone

of the elbow. I remember I’ve lifted

a sleeping body so slight I thought

the whole catastrophic world could fall away.

I forget how disaster works, how it can turn

a child back into glistening butterfish

or finches. And then they’ll just do

what they do, which is teach the rest of us

how to move with such natural gravity.

Look at these two girls, center frame,

who hold out their arms

as if they’re finally remembering

they were made for other altitudes.

I love them for the peculiar joy

of returning to earth. Not an ounce

of impatience. This simple thrill

of touching ground.

from Brooklyn AntediluvianFind it in the library

Copyright © Persea Books 2016
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Persea Books.

Published in Patrick Rosal Poems

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