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Ain’t That Your Son?

As I climb carefully around the steep rocks,
making my way back down the gorge,
the same shirtless, pot-bellied guy
we’d passed on the way up
stands knee-deep in the rushing water.

What looks like the same, half-smoked
cigarette protrudes limply from his lips.
He still grips a can of Coors in one hand,
but with the other points downstream.
“Ain’t that your son?” he asks.

On the shoreline below us,
my tall, mop-haired 17-year-old
stands over a young woman
and two little boys,
whom she tends on the sand.

I confess: “Yeah.  He’s mine.”
And ask tentatively: “Why?”
The guy waves his cigarette like a pointer.
“Them two kids got sucked downstream
an’ was drownin’ in a whirlpool.”

He takes a long draw on his smoke,
as if to let the tension build,
then exhales slowly, knowingly.
“Your boy fished ’em out—one under each arm—
like some goddamn superhero or somethin’.”

Climbing hurriedly down the steep shoreline,
I can’t reach them fast enough.
Ain’t that your son?
Or wipe the smile from my face.
Yeah.  He’s mine.

Previously-published in:, Issue O10, 10/’07; Kid Stuff: A Collection of Years, Woof Books, San Marino, CA, ’04; Pasadena Star-News, U Entertainment section, 11/16/’03.