Our Father’s Lifesaving Merit Badge, 1931 by Robert Grunst

Our Father’s Lifesaving Merit Badge, 1931

As of light or sound at the boundary between
Two mediums with different refractive indices . . .

Sunlight does not take well to the future Eagle Scout.
The Santa Ana wind whips up a chop,
Transports particles of soot, exhaust, scents
Of overheated rails and wires: Los Angeles
Across the channel from this raft of planks
Framed in atop six oil drums anchored
Over Avalon Bay.  The boy is burning fast.
Santa Catalina is at his back
Along with two counselors.  The object is
To save a flour sack, fifteen pounds of
Sea-soaked rags and kapok cinched off
At her middle.  She is a she, they say.  Beautiful.
She’s oddly twisting on her rope.  Tethered to
Three cinder blocks.  The authorities
Proclaim her depth is nineteen feet.  He must expel
His wind.  Through and through the cold will
Shudder him.  And the current will twist him too.
Then the slip knot will not slip.
Everything will start booming in his head.
He will not rise with her, gasping, eyes
Stinging at the ladder’s edge.  Instead, she’ll stay
With three California rays, strange ministers
With undulating sleeves, crossing and re-crossing
The sand.  Fleet rhomboidal shapes—
The weird-distorted cursives of their tails
Unmooring all the fictions of the afternoon—
The ranks, the girl, the rescue plan, the badge,
Such barbed holding points as boy and bird and fish.


Robert Grunst has published two books of poems, The Smallest Bird in North American (New Issues Press) and Blue Orange (Ashland Poetry Press)