This morning I walked down to the cove, as calm
and hushed as if a ghost had spooked it. On
some nights, alone on the dock, I’ve seen his face
while gazing into the water; then it’s gone.
A natural-born duelist, those “double dares,”
how quickly I outswam him. (One summer day,
years later, implored to clear the woods “down there,”
from what remained of the boathouse came a noise,
his strokes on the rotted ribs of Cape Kidd’s Vamp.)
Swimming to where I thought I’d heard his voice,
I dove, sure when I came up that “Marco’’’d shriek
for “Polo,” reviving his dare. Then one leg cramped,
jerking like a bullfrog gigged or the sideshow freak
we’d seen at a carnival over near Kent one fall.
I’ve never recalled reaching the buoy, just the shouts
of our neighbor’s sons fishing off our dock, the squall
not yet visible out past the barrier rocks
as the splash of something across the cove fanned out
moments before I heard one oarlock
slam the buoy’s leeward, a coarse dark hand
firmly grasping me, pulling me into his boat.
Mark Mansfield’s work has appeared in Bayou, Blue Mesa Review, Evansville Review, Fourteen Hills, Magma, Salt Hill, Tulane Review, Unsplendid, and elsewhere. He holds an M.A. in Writing from Johns Hopkins. Currently, he lives in upstate New York where he teaches.