One Set of Prints for Two
by Rick Kempa
In the winter of your first year we camped by the ocean. You would sleep beside me in the tent. Towards morning, but still night, you’d roll over, let out a cry. I’d take you outside to give you some fresh air. You liked that, fell quiet, turned your head towards Venus above the bluffs. You’d be perfectly alert. So I’d wrap you in your blanket, hoist you on my back, and we would walk.
It was chilly; you huddled close. I walked as briskly as I could, navigating the black clutter of seaweed and wood. My feet sank in the soft sand, the muscles in my calves and arches ached. I headed over to the water side, where the sand was packed, stripped bare, the going easier.
There, the beach abruptly fell off towards the water. The water, a body more or less in place, loomed up across from us, its surface head‑high or higher. We watched each wave in turn advance, drawing the wash from the last wave into itself, steepening into a black wall, until the crest began to froth, the spume to race along it like a white thread unravelling, and the water‑wall would collapse. The tremendous thump of each part against the sand, the shock felt underfoot, the explosion into foam, the giant tongues hissing up the bank towards where we were, wiping out my tracks.
You began to utter marvellous cries. Your feet braced on the pack’s frame, your knees against my spine, you lurched from side to side, or way over forward or back, your little arm and forefinger extended, shrilling your delight. At what? I peered after you. The stars, twice as bright in that atmosphere. An air‑bubble in the sand, into which perhaps you saw a ghost crab disappear. A trio of pelicans above a breaking wave. (Their cries from that other side seemed to mimic you.)
After a while you grew quiet, attentive to the rhythm of our walk. One motion described us. Your muscles slackened, head grew heavy, thumping on my shoulder with each step. You would rest for a moment, jolt awake—like me, always fighting sleep—rest some more. You became small, your legs drawn up, shoulders hunched, hands tucked between your belly and my back. I swear you grew lighter, once consciousness had left you.
And I felt lighter too. Walking the long border, night and day, earth and water, the vast inverted curve of beach, the cape where the cliffs stepped forth to take their punishment, the next cove, the next cape, as many as I wanted. At each cape, I’d pause. The boulders that had fallen from the cliffs lay piled on the shelves of rock or rooted in the shallows, and the water beat them, and the water broke, not them.
For once I had no purpose, no one thing to head for and surmount. I was alone and with you, your small breath, my one set of prints for two. Before us and behind us, embracing us, the mist that seemed to breathe light, that was the light, was rising from its sleep to take the sky. I thanked you for waking me. I did not want to turn back.
Rick Kempa lives in Rock Springs, Wyoming–a long day’s drive from sea salt–where he teaches at Western Wyoming College. Rick is editor of the anthology ON FOOT: Grand Canyon Backpacking Stories, (Vishnu Temple Press, 2014) and co-editor, with Peter Anderson, of Going Down Grand: Poems from the Canyon (Lithic Press, 2015). His latest poetry collection is Ten Thousand Voices (Littoral Press, 2014). Other work of his can be found at Blue Lyra Review, Buddhist Poetry Review, Ducts.org, Hippocampus, and Watershed Review. www.rickkempa.com