CANOEING AT NIGHT WITH MY DAUGHTER ON THE BAY

Night is thinner on water.
We can see past the darkness
across the plain to the island we're headed for,
while lights blink on the high, distant bridgelike visitors.

We paddle on the same side in unison
so quietly we can almost hear the lights
and, at last, balance each other,
knowing that neither could save the other.

We slide by an island, wooded to the water.
The trees stir, and their foliage changes slowly beside us
into thousands of roosting pelicans.
One ruffles its wings and startles the air above us.
The entire island is uneasy.

Ahead of me her hair
lifts and falls to the rhythm of paddling.
I follow her lead and can no longer hear the sound of disease,
her archipelago of cells now still.

On the island across the plain, we'll build a bonfire
like a lighthouse from the only wood we could find
--some chairs sacrificed--
to celebrate the silence of her body.

Ten yards from the channel, shallows slow us.
Incredulously, we step into the middle of the bay.
From the bridge a watchman looks out of his cubicle of light
to see us walking on water.

We remind each other that gators hate salt
and shuffle our feet to warn the stingrays,
whose wings sound the blackness below us,
remind ourselves that we can cross over.
Together, we are passing to an island we can see.

Returned to the rhythm of the pull,
we aim the boat like an agreement
between us come without a word after long struggle.
She bends to the work in front of me, always ahead of me

as our prow soundlessly plows the island sand,
balancing as she has throughout two-year's passage
--the whistle above, the barbed ripple below--
traveling the plain
her hand dangling in the warm bay, leaving a trail of light.