James Harms

I’ve Lost My Son

I’ve lost my son. I said to him
just a few minutes ago,
Yes, you can walk to the top
of that dune.
We’ve been waiting
in line an hour for the ferry but
something is wrong. Maybe it sank
in the sound. Maybe he
went to look for it, to see
if he could see it from the top
of the dune. Maybe I
nodded off, my daughter
asleep in her car seat; maybe
I joined her for just a sec.
And now he’s gone, or gone
from sight, no little boy at the top
of the dune or walking nearby
or standing by the road. No
little boy. I ease out of the car,
shut the door softly so I won’t
wake my daughter, sprint
to the top of the nearest dune,
certain I’ll see him just beyond,
but beyond is the sea, the ocean,
the Atlantic all the way to
Portugal. Or maybe Morocco.
The beach north and south
is empty, just dune grass and
the shadows of dune grass waving
in the wind, waving shadows
but no little boy. I’m spinning now,
looking everywhere, turning
like a top, like a little boy riding
the Tilt-A-Whirl, feeling the bumps
and bounces, hearing the music
which is just the sea, the waves thinning
to sheets as they rush up the shore,
little bubbles bursting between
pebbles and bits of shell. Off
toward Hatteras I spot the ferry.
We have twenty minutes, tops.
There’s a ranger’s hut near
the docks, a tall set of stairs
to the door, and I’m there suddenly,
winded and vaguely sick, pounding
first and then telling a man in
a khaki shirt, a man wearing a stupid
Smoky the Bear hat, that my son, my son,
and I turn to point, to look again
at the empty dune, to explain about
loss, and I see him walk from the shadows
between dunes, my little boy in his
Velcro strap sandals,
I see him walking toward our car
unbothered and probably whistling;
he learned to whistle on this
vacation. I’m not embarrassed
and I don’t apologize; I don’t even
finish the sentence, just run down
the stairs toward my son, who
hasn’t seen me yet, who has no
idea he was lost.



James Harms is the author of eight full-length poetry collections, most recently Rowing with Wings (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2017). He is also the author of five chapbooks and limited-run titles which include Racheland and Animals in Distress & Pluto (Wallflower Press).