Through my window
I watched a mother’s hand
steady her child as she
balanced on the edge of the sidewalk
as if she too had been trained in teetering.
Two times ten the wobbling girl traveled me in time
my naked toes shifted their weight between
wet barnacle-covered rocks on a rugged shoreline
a single false step might have harpooned my spine
my head– a brittle shell– hovered above the surf.
I trusted the sea would not betray me.
The coral reef knew me as well as I knew her
so often I had tributed my blood
to the reef’s rocks, stung by sea urchins,
thick thorns thrusting living spears into my skin
a central part of the reefing ritual
skin schooled by jellyfish
electric tentacles tangling their wires
into my nerves, the ocean a network
of connecting cables
anemones dangling tentacles
my fingers making contact
like an astronaut hesitant to leave her suit.
A naked mollusk. I bared my unshelled body to the water
flaming fire corals, fierce puffer fish.
I was not supposed to touch
but a nude hermit crab
came out of my own shell
crawled among rocks
to find a new home for her growing body
shed fear of predators only for an instant
pincers turned to fingers
prodded the seabed, feelers and eyes to find
the direction of the ocean currents
tried to grip the edge of a changing shoreline
where corals crumbled at a child’s touch
the whole reef reeling like a single body
suspended between earth and water