On a furlough from work, I travel home with my family to visit my family. It is mid-August and hot, so we go to the shore, to the beach at French River, where as a child I went with my mother (who is working today, and so cannot join us) and brother (who is moving a shed from one field to another). I am not fond of beaches, especially not in summer. I am no swimmer and prefer cool shade to unbroken exposure. But my wife loves the ocean, as does our boy, so if I am here with no enthusiasm, neither am I reluctant.
The water is all crested combers and tumult, but we find a calmer spot where a shoal extends far into the surf even though the tide's halfway out. My wife and boy make for the waterline; I stay behind. They wade in. I catch snatches of Kaleb's laughter as the small waves nearly knock him down. I catch myself framing the moment as a future memory, possibly a poem. I catch myself editing out my nephew—my brother's step-son, actually, whose childhood is unrolling on the same plot of land as mine and my brother's—because, charming boy that he is and worshipped by my son as elder cousins are, he would be an extraneous actor in the dramatis personae of this poem. I catch myself making a mental note to re-read Don Coles' “My Son at the Seashore, Age Two,” in case my incipient poem might be too similar to his, or in case a sly allusion to it should prove a propos. Any poem with such a cast and backdrop, after all, cannot but be bound up in memory, time and oblivion.
The whole recursive rumination ends sharply when I see my wife has been waving me to join them. I've brought no swimwear, but the sea is so shallow and the air so hot it doesn't matter. The water is warm but cooling. It laps the hem of my knee-length shorts and wicks upward. I am glad to be here instead of cooking on the griddle-hot sand. Pleasure craft, tour boats and trawlers jounce by, just off the shoal, which is marked by buoys, though the sharp line between the reddish sand bar and the cobalt deep water would be guide enough to keep a boat from grounding.
Rachel has me mind the boys while she takes a swim. She wades out further on the shoal, then starts swimming in the same direction. I holler three times before she hears me and stands up, puzzled. I wave her over and she comes. Walk out, swim in, I say. There's an undertow. It's been the death of better swimmers than you. Stay where your feet can touch bottom.
Even as I hollered at my wife, I caught myself framing another future memory: The Day Rachel Drowned. There is no lifeguard at French River and few bystanders near enough to help had the undertow sucked her under and out.
Back on the beach, I talk with a man from Quebec City whose schnauzers Kaleb wants to meet. We speak in French and he mistakes me for a francophone, which happens often in such encounters. Not, I expect, because my French is so good, but more likely because my haphazard melange of chiac, joual and français-comme-il-faut marks me as a dialect speaker foreign wherever he goes. The man is surprised to learn that I'm from here. He's been coming to the Island, to this beach, for thirty years. I first visited French River around the same time, I tell him, when I was the boy's age. We talk about how the shoreline has morphed. Storm surges. Sandstone. Warming. Erosion. The grottoes further down the beach, he says, are gone.
That was where we used to go. Sheltered, shady at the right time of day, safely away from the undertow.
That night, Rachel observes that I have written three love poems to her and that all three are set in places other than our home. And all on shorelines, I point out. Resolute Bay. North Cape. Vík. Walk out. Swim in. Repeat.