Dear Diana,

your birthday balloons or Valentine’s Day balloons

were scattered along four miles of McGrath State Beach,

as a few plovers and stilts scurried up and down the surf,

turkey buzzards ate something up in the dunes

toward the oil field, two pelicans flew directly at us,

swerving of course at the last second, easily, without

any change of angle, posture or expression,

(one flew north with torn breast red from a

distance, flesh hanging open) and we came upon two

sea lion pups, less than a year old, separated

from the others, separated from each other, starving

and looking up at us fearfully as we walked toward them,

one lifted large wet eyes on a thin neck and sniffed,

the other yelped and fled from its resting spot

down into the waves. All the way I collected the Mylar

balloons, tore each open and stuffed it

into a plastic bag. Only one carried your name.

It came to me that you were 4 years old, your

round chocolate face dimpled with glee,

surrounded by family and these bobbing

helium-filled emblems of their wobbling joy.

As we hiked the three miles up to McGrath Lake

and its rafts of sea birds, waves rolled in, waves

rolled on. Stalking up from hard-packed sand

I’d fetch another one of your withered globes.

19 total, so maybe you’re not 4—maybe you’re

21 (the other 2 still float in the ocean)

and my corny imagination presents me with

this heart-shaped image of you at 21, chasing

your 18 or 19 year old lover, teasing you,

a $20 bouquet of big shiny wishes in his fist

to make you chase him, to make you love him,

—as laughing, you do—he skips away as the sea

wind buffets these notional tokens of fantasy

and desire about you both, as he catches you

in his arms, strands of the long ribbons trail

in that wind when he catches you and loses

them, they fly up with your squeals and delight

—your delight rising to the skies. That’s

how I think of you as I walk barefoot at surf’s

edge. Your balloons, a kind of plastic deadly

to sea life, rode the sea wind like specks

of fantasy and desire trailing periwinkle ribbons

from a civilization playing out fantasy and

desire across the continent, floating out

over the sea to wither with cold and drop

into the breaking waves, still partly inflated,

washed up on miles of shoreline. They stuffed

the plastic bag to bursting, Diana. Withered

flags or feathers of your delight and bright desire.

And what about those two shotgun shells I found?


balloon bump