Poems by Amber Foster

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The Day After the Storm

by Amber Foster

From Canary Spring 2014

Amber †lives in the Brazos Valley region of Texas, along the green banks of Brazos River, the 11th-longest river in the world.

The barracuda stares at me with deep sea eyes.

You donít belong here, those eyes say. What kind of fish are you?

At a hundred feet, we are enveloped in blue. There is no bottom, although it should be here, along with the wreck we have come to dive. The only sense of up and down comes from the bubbles of exhaled breath that mushroom up and away, expanding as they carve their way to the surface.

Iím lost.

Behind me, my two customers wait, pointing at the barracuda, their eyes wide behind their masks. It is not the wreck they have come to see, but it is something. They are a nice couple, Canadian, mid-twenties. I have spoken with them only briefly, long enough to tell them how deep, how long, what not to touch.

The barracuda is the largest Iíve encountered. Six feet, although maybe only five on the surface, without the perspective-tricks the sea plays. His teeth are large and sharp, designed to crack the bones of littler fish. He stares at me with grandfather eyes, his long, silver body crisscrossed with the scars of old battles.

Do you know where it is? I ask him with my eyes.

The boat captain took us along the rocky, wave-eaten coast for twenty minutes, and then turned off the motor. A plane of flat water, identical on all sides. Whereís the buoy? I asked, and the man shrugged, leaning back and pulling his hat down over his face.

Iím not supposed to ask questions. Iím a freelancer, a drifter. No one knows I have only been on the island a week and donít know the way. With buoys, there are ways around not knowing, ways of plotting easy out-and-back courses until the labyrinths of coral become familiar.

But the storm came in the night, and sank the buoy and the line leading down to the wreck.

Without the buoy, Iím lost.

The barracuda swims closer, so close I can see the inside of his mouth, white like desert bones. Iím not afraid. Heís curious about these strange fish in his sea, fish whose bubbles fill the world with noise. In an instant he turns, and displaced water brushes my face, feather-like. I follow, pressing hard with my fins, trying to catch up, even though I know it is impossible. I wave for the customers to follow. In my peripheral vision I catch glimpses of bubbles, black wetsuits, pale knees bobbing above cheap plastic fins.

Ahead, the barracuda fades from view, merging with a great shadow that rises up from the sea floor. The shadow becomes the wreck, a heap of discolored metal resting on its side in the sand. A rusting corpse coated with a living skin of coral. From under the cargo hold, the green moray they call El CapitŠn peers at me, as if asking me why I am so late. I turn and look for the barracuda, but heís gone.

Thank you, I say, speaking with eyes that look past the wreck to where the sunlight disappears into points of refracted light. Nearby, a broken mast lies half-buried in the sand. The coral-encrusted metal is like an old manís finger, pointing out and down.

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