And I never wanted to lay a hand on you. The things that went missing were the things we never had a hand on in the first place. The things nibbling at the edges of our imaginations that were not to become tangible, or completely visible with the naked eye. Neither knowable, nor close enough to tear apart or off.
Maybe we didn't see the things that stood right before our eyes. The things that were visible were the ones that disappeared first, without being missed, in the light evening of an undiscovered promise, the summer night of a California beach with water too cold to skinny-dip with strangers. We obsessed over what wasn't there, and took for granted what was there all along.
I saw you in your red underthings doubling as a bathing suit. A cool breeze swirled the aluminum torches along the patio edges, with laughter and unheard insults floating across the beach in choppy whispers. The bonfires lit in dancing crescents, the bronze bodies with nylon stitching, and a backbone of fiberglass surfboards hatcheted into the sand like a prehistoric animal with no ancestors. With no future past August.
The things that went missing were never offered. The air teased the elastic of our flirtations as you picked sand from between my toes with our legs crossed in artificial modesty, up on the bamboo railing. I saw you looking. And the apocalypse of the tide made my memory obsolete.
You blamed your brother for the ride you missed. Ochre smoke hung innocently on the inseams of your bathing suit. The nylon of the jacket held just so but was safety-pinned in a secret place to preserve the illusion. The beach was suddenly empty. The pepper lights hung on a wire that squeaked in the salt wind.
The things that went missing were the ones we weren't paying attention to. The price of gas that made Chet stop driving the Cadillac. The storage shed filled with mother’s photo albums, grown dank and green. Your desperate hold on the neck of a Guinness, stolen from the bottle shop. Fresh-caught fish on a line, smiling and circling in the pails.
We saved them from the shark surf. Later you would fry them over phonebook flames with a steel claw made of hangers, like evidence you were determined to destroy.
The promise of summer, paved in gilt-edged bible pages, seduced me into unwinding the regrets you never replayed for me. You only agreed to see me when everyone else was gone. The sunset burned the smog into unnatural colors. And the windshield filtered the light in that starving morning, bringing a touch to your skin and the hidden elastic below the fold, discarded on the backseat floor. The crease left wet, your silent tear glistening along the cheeks that still burned with the force of that accidental reversal.
The things that went missing were a foreshadowing of our death and of the birth. The religious poise of a creature, found floating towards deeper water, the wave of a new world simple in its proposal and fertile grace. Missing were the things never seen. My stories were jokes you didn't hear, the punchlines an insult they took the wrong way, your secret an opportunity you'd backed into by accident. You let him watch you change in the shower stalls down by the lifeguard station after the festival.
I'd have worn a mask to enter your light, splintered with styrofoam vertebrae and warmed by the driftwood furnace. But I was up on the hill overlooking the summer houses built deep in the shale, and the plan fell in the vast sea of night. My plan drowned by Poseidon, lost beyond Apollo, in the parking lot of the Scop Cafe in the backseat of the Cadillac, whispered at lunchtime the following Monday.
Did I tell you? The sharks went hungry.
Your indignation was a pose against this Sodom and Gomorrah business, that Guernica night that began as it ended, a grand embrace of our last night alone, the desperate attempt to find what had already gone missing, your smiling teeth dark in the shadow, a trick of the flame while tequila smoke coiled from the cement rings on the dirty sand like a broken necklace, spilled in an amorous struggle.
Butts and pop tops and clear plastic wrappers. The slow curves pitched with duckweed that damselflies swarm around like high school. I lit the flame and you let him have it. I wore another suit of clothes. Last call before we take inventory of the supplies.
The things that went missing had to be reconstructed later in a hand-held reading where I passed my own poem over to let someone else read, with broken rhythms I had no way to put my hand on, to twist back in shape.
Waist ties poked in my thighs at the joint. I imagined the burn of your hand for hours. The color was an illusion of the printer, and should not reflect your final result. Once you live by the coast, you never get it out of your blood. Grains of sand circled at the bottom of the empty shower stall, beads of glass a blind memory of something never consummated.
The man with the orange blazer would hose it down come winter, during the rains. At the naked clearing dotted with redwood picnic tables, I held you down to make you confess, holding the lapels of someone else's windbreaker, which you tore off then never reclaimed.
It fell apart that August. The things that went missing were not there to begin with.
Written by: Roger Leatherwood
Photograph by: Garrett Carroll