Child Lost at the Beach

Billy Collins Click to

bcollins-230Former Poet Laureate of the United States, Billy Collins is the author of a dozen collections of poetry, most recently Horoscopes for the Dead (Random House, 2011).  His many awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Mark Twain Award for Humor in Poetry.  He is the Distinguished Fellow of the Winter Park Institute in Florida and teaches in the MFA program at Stony Brook Southampton.

This time, the boy had gone missing
for so many hours that a television crew was sent
to cover the story, which is how I came to hear
one lifeguard explain to the camera
that a lost child will usually start walking
along the shoreline in the direction of the sun.

I remember taking this bit
of lifeguard wisdom as a vaguely hopeful sign,
not just because it was a safer choice
than heading shakily into the pounding surf
or inland into the parking lot and the traffic beyond—
but something about the power of the sun and the bravery of children.

That’s when I began to picture many lost children,
a long single-file parade of them,
walking slowly over the wet sand toward the lowering sun—
the brightest, shiniest thing we’ll ever know—
before that moment when their parents turned
to each other, faces locked on the shock of the absence.

I could see each boy or girl on its journey
toward the light burning above the horizon,
hundreds of little explorers striking out
into uncharted territory with nothing but a sunhat maybe
or a useless pail and shovel—
Lewis without Clark, Clark with no Lewis.

But I could not see far enough to tell
if all were found and returned safe in the end
or if they were devoured by the sun
like a scene in a terrifying myth,
for by that time I was walking right behind them,
blinded by the glare of whatever it was they were seeking.


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