The Allegory of the Paddle Boat
You and your paddle-boat-mate are on a paddle boat at sea, which, according to the owner’s manual, is “not recommended.” You toss the owner’s manual overboard. The sandy ocean bottom disappears, but you could still swim back to shore in case of mutiny. You pedal until the water becomes choppy. This makes you nervous, and the owner’s manual is on the ocean floor. It rains on the water, dramatically, and great waves fill the paddle boat. One of you holds the steering handle with both hands while the other bails water with a baseball cap. You are pleasantly surprised to survive. You realize that it would have been easier to have lightened the load, but you didn’t think of it like your paddle-boat-mate must not have thought of it, and you feel an unbearable warmth pooling within you. You imagine jumping paddle boat into a great white’s hungry jaws to prove this. But the water is calm now, and you pedal on. You notice there is one steering handle.
You wake up pedaling air—you are caked with sand. You must have rolled over in your sleep, must have tumbled overboard. You can’t see past the shore for the fog. The water is two steps in every direction. There is a palm tree with some coconuts. There is no pistol because this must not have been the plan—but what a salty fear fills you, even after the baseball cap and the great white. Surely the sloshing of the paddle boat will soon return. Eons pass. You realize the current is stronger than the pedaling and always has been. But this warm pool inside you. The fog clears, and there you are on the shore, peering across the waves. You see other islands with similar shores and their waiting faithful, standing solitary at the water’s edge. And you realize how mistaken you were, thinking all this time that you were alone.
Jenelle Clausen received an MFA in creative writing from Bowling Green State University and resides in Madison, Wisconsin. She drafts poems on loose-leaf college-ruled notebook paper with an 0.5 mm black gel pen, sometimes in the fluorescent glow of her living room floor lamp, sometimes in the incandescent glow of her side table lamp, and sometimes in a commingling of artificial lights.