How to Dive When You Don’t Know How by Abra Bertman

How to Dive When You Don’t Know How

They fall backward, and you’re alone
on the side of the ship, pretending you don’t exhale
black air into black rubber while your big black
two left feet face the music outside your mask.

Despite hearty encouragement from the
tanned, optimistic instructor, his smile
turns dark and strained. Sea-blue eyes
cloud behind his tousled hair.

You are the bane of his summer job: each cruise
has one difficult, bookish, crumpled,
menopausal woman invading the ship, muumuu flapping
as she invokes a poem about Ocean being God

in a world where only breathing-knowledge pays.
You will never lean back into the horizon,
and he will never get to the cooler
for a beer. It’s like trying to be a debutante

with a novel instead of a clutch under the arm.
Later, prim as you please, you’ll sip tea on a coast
where sand-brown girls gulp sunrise
tequila with sex on-the-beach and in-the-city laughter.

The instructor sighs. He says he’ll count to three
And then you need to let go. Have a good time, he says.
He motions for you to fall. He pleads for you to dare.
He invokes Nike wisdom. It’s not his fault

you resist opening to the world
under water. You’re trying
to tell him there are no good symbols
for fish. What is this loneliness the water spills

onto the deck of your doubt? What are these
new feet for? What is this weight on your back?
From the mask air leaves through a tube.
Every breath is a loss you share with antiquity.


Abra Bertman lives in Amsterdam where she teaches English Literature at the International School of Amsterdam. Her poems have appeared in Beloit Poetry Journal, The Citron Review, Rust + Moth, Slipstream, and WomanArts Quarterly Journal, among others. Abra was nominated for the Best of the Net in 2016. Her poem “When the World Comes Home,” a collaboration with jazz pianist Franz Von Chossy, appears in the liner notes of the CD of the same name.