Al Maginnes

The Diver

Imagine water. A mud-dense country river
whose surface shows nothing
of what lies above it. Yet a man parks here,
steps out of his truck and into the gear —
black suit tight as the skin of a drum,
thick-lensed mask, tanks heavy with air —
that will let him glide
those clay-blind depths, shedding
earthly weight to float near the bottom,
as close as this life will bring him
to flying. He knows that miles west
fire blusters and dances, black smoke
an inky omen across the horizon.
But when a current, more fierce
than any this river has known, draws him
from the river’s weedy bottom,
from his reverie of coral-veined water
and dazzle-bright fish, he is long minutes
realizing he has been pulled,
a thrashing Jonah, into the belly
of one of the planes dispatched
to gather the water needed
to bomb the flames silent.
Unable to surface in a coffin of water,
he thinks of fish he has kept
since boyhood in tanks of varying size
and how they seemed finally to spend
most of their time motionless,
fins barely wavering in water
that is endless and without tides.
But he believes motion can keep him
until the plane lands, until enough water
is pumped from the tank to let him call 
his presence aloud and stand once more
on sturdy ground. Turning unceasing,
uncounted laps, he almost believes
the story he can make of this
until a hatch opens
and a rushing sudden as birth
sets him swimming for one second
in air, before masked eyes close
on the final dive into fire.