The One Who Did Not Drown

By Julie Flanders


Breathing what is right around me

I now can see

I stop involuntarily

So that my whole body seems to be

Slightly distorted


Held aloft, most abruptly

Like some artificial, haughty boss

Ready to speak the last word

On self-inflation


Why do I pause?

As if, with chalk in hand

At a blackboard in a classroom

Full of children at their small desks

I rule like fate, as the poets say

I change the winds and the way the boats sail

I must have thought so once

But now I pause into the question

Wrestling with my own disaffection

The adolescence of my spirit, perhaps

The last dying breath of hope

Before the collapse into what will be

My evident failure

Fate, destiny

And a boat of missing sailors

Will vanish from my sight

As asymmetrical on the horizon

As the V of birds that burn to light



Is what comes next

The tumult of uneven breath

Darkness, silence,

The threat of a storm

What the children do

To straighten up

And perform

Before they risk the wrath of the beast

They watch the monster pause

And take her time

Breathing in the nothingness

Of space and time

The distance between the front of the room

And the chair

Where you sat as a child

You now stand

In front of the group

And gasp for air

Hand on the ruler

Waving fate

Like a windshield wiper

Surely this is the moment where things change

In reality

A room of windows

A room of adult strangers

All the children disappear


As a small voice speaks

From the front of the space

You take a deep breath

And the words come

As grace

Through the figure who dares draw breath

To fill the black slate of silence

With loss

And the song of the sea

Where the sailors toss themselves

Over the horizon


Who is that person?

A child, but also an author

To whom the story is suddenly clear

For whom the ocean splits itself in half

And from her mouth

No longer held in camera

That exalted cascade of possibility

Begins to take a shape

The listeners cannot escape the tale

Their eyes follow the doomed sailors

Over the edge

And back to town

Where some Penelope waits

For the one who does not drown

Who may return one day from that horizon

Dirty, tired, old

And in disguises

She never lets herself question his fate

Even when no one enters

No one escapes


She does not move

She walks the castle

She learns to hold her breath

As bait

To speak when spoken to

To keep the lock still on the gate

So that when she finds herself

Face to face with emptiness

That mirror of the soul

She sees the image fracture

In the broken glass

But holds the image whole


What would her beloved say

Had her thoughts reached him

Perhaps he would have said

There is no ocean

I cannot swim

After which she would have been


To wrap herself in a long, dark scarf

And let the hourglass turn itself on the table


The story begins

A poem, a fable

To show and tell the years that come between

Row, row, row your boat

(You know what I mean)

And gently to the edge of the world

Where life is but a dream

Where life is but a dim watery ledge

Where the sun comes up


To lighten your next breath


As you begin to speak of life

And bend into its graces

The children grieve

You can see it in their faces

To hear a story they do not believe

But now you know the truth of loss

And so you breathe


Photo by Alex Wigan

Bridge into Water.Alex Wigan

About octoberprojectmusic

Julie Flanders Marina Belica Emil Adler
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