Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt challenged me to write a poem in the form of a series of directions describing how a person should get to a particular place. I wrote a poem that describes a moment in my life where I learned how most of my problems are only bigger in my own head.
I’m standing in line, a line of only men.
We’ve all worked hard to get here,
Today will be all pass/fail.
And you get to continue through the program.
And you go back to the Fleet and chip paint.
Nobody wants to fail, but we know some will.
If we think hard enough, we know their names too.
The stairway wraps up and around the tower,
Two hundred steps, all-metal, grated, and cold.
Everything is painted beige and sand tones,
Same as the beach roaring off in the distance.
The wind is warm for a Spring morning,
And the line begins to move.
Alphabetically, I’m in the front.
We all ascend the tower stairs,
Seeing the Pacific Ocean stretch out over the dunes.
The view is magnificent from the middle of the stairs,
But no one can focus on its beauty.
Pass/Fail — that’s all each man can think of.
Will I pass?
Will I pull through?
Or will I panic and be done?
The climb is a journey into doubt and anxiety.
There are two men ahead of me.
There are advantages to having a name that starts with “B”,
This is not one of them.
The first man goes into the open door, then the other.
I can smell the mix of sea salt and chlorine,
And it makes my stomach turn.
Now I am walking through the door.
I’m with several men at the top of the tower.
The small room contains a well,
A deep well that cores through the center of the tower.
The surface of fifty feet of water waves before me,
And I am told to use the ladder and enter the water.
The water is warm and steams up my facemask,
But below me are haunting lights.
Deepwater contained within a cylinder,
Perfect for practicing dive techniques.
Today, however, I only cared about the nine-foot mark.
There are four of us in the water.
Each of us is paired with an instructor,
Who uses hand signals to makes us ready.
I take a huge breath and descend feet first,
Amazed by the depth below me.
I arrive at a nylon line tied to gromets at nine feet,
And take the line in my hand.
We’ve just begun and my lungs are already burning.
The instructor gives me a hand sign: Begin Becket’s Bend.
I know this knot,
I’ve been practicing it for weeks.
Now it was time to tie it.
In my other hand is a 12-inch white nylon cord,
Burnt and wrapped in duct tape on both ends.
I relax and tie the cord around the line.
Loop, around, tuck, and the knot is done,
And I sign to the instructor that I have finished.
He pulls on it and the knot comes apart.
The thumbs down are glaring in my facemask,
And I start to panic,
It’s only been ten seconds underwater,
But I suddenly can’t breathe.
I focus again, and rethink the knot,
Then perform the drill… again.
Loop, around, tuck, and the knot is done… again.
I smile and give my instructor the thumbs up.
He doesn’t smile and pulls on the knot.
This time it stays.
He looks at me for a long time,
Longer because my lungs are burning, craving for air.
Then his slowly gives me the thumbs up.
I untie the knot, then ask to go to the surface.
He stares at me for an eternity.
The fire in my chest is too much,
More than I can handle.
I feel myself starting to fade,
And I feel my vision starting to dim.
This is when my instructor jabs me in the chest,
With enough force to make me bubble.
I am not dead,
I am just out of breath.
He senses the urgency he can see in my face,
Then smiles a toothy smile.
With his free hand, he makes the sign I’ve been waiting for,
The sign that releases me from my task,
And allows me to return to the surface.
When I reach relief I gasp in a deep breath,
Which is followed by a splash that fills my mouth with water.
My instructor has splashed me,
And I swallow half the pool.
His sadistic smile tells me that this is my reward,
My reward for passing his test.
Other men are not so lucky.
Their instructors are yelling at them,
Insulting them for failing such a simple task.
Tying a knot underwater seems simple on the surface,
But tying a knot underwater under extreme pressure?
It could possibly be the hardest thing ever conceived.
For me, I survived another day,
And I get to continue to enjoy this abuse.
This is the end of the line.
A simple knot has cost them their dream.
The irony is everywhere.
I climb out of the pool.
My instructor yells my name,
Then yells the word ‘PASS’.
Another instructor makes a note,
Then tells me to leave.
I do twenty push-ups at the door,
The customary protocol for ending our pool fun time.
Then descend the metal, grated, and cold stairs.
This time, the view from the top is overwhelming.
I can see as far down the Silver Strand.
As far South as San Ysidro and the Mexican border,
Crashing waves along Imperial Beach as far as the eye can see.
And as far North as the Naval Air Station at North Island,
With jets landing on long, fuzzy runways.
Even the ships coming into port under the bridge.
It is breathtaking!
As I climb down the stairs they are no longer cold,
But warm and sandy.
I see each man’s face, full of uncertainty,
While mine is bright and smiling.
Some try to ask what it is like,
To which all I can add is, “It’s not bad.”
They don’t know what I know,
That it is hell — until you pass!
Then it is bliss.
I reach the end of the long line of men.
The final few steps are empty,
With only me on the last few stairs.
I ascended the tower.
I tied the knot.
And I survived.
But what was the point?
Why was this exercise so important?
It would be years later that I would understand the lesson,
The lesson of the knot in the dive tower.
The lesson was simple:
Everything is a journey,
Not a destination.
And your view from the other side of this journey?
It is better than you ever expected.
We all make small problems bigger than they really are.
But once we face the problem, see it for what it truly is,
We can overcome it.
Making the view from the other side,
A thing of beauty.
In other words:
Experience teaches us that most of our problems,
Are only big in our own heads.
And enjoy the view.
#napowrimo #napowrimo21 #napowrimo2021