Sarah Wetzel

Breaching the Surface

And the thought came to me that the person
on the other end of the phone
into which the woman on the park bench
next to me was speaking so frantically
was no longer there.
                                                  That he'd carefully
set down his phone on a small table
and left the room.
                                                  I see him walk out
the door of his weathered one-bedroom
bungalow, take a path that leads through
some low dunes toward the ocean.
The sun is already half-setting.
A breeze blows in from the water
and small waves lap the sand.
The tide is low and tidal pools pock
and waver in the waning light.
A few others are already there, staring out.
They stand silently watching
the red ball descend.
                                                  On the horizon,
a blue whale breaches the water's surface, twisting
its astonishing body into the air.
Then another.
                              In the house behind him,
the woman on the other end of the phone
continues to speak quickly, her words
a soft whirr like a helicopter's blade
in the distance. From the phone
on another table, a man's murmur.
From a third and then a fourth, voices
speak urgently
                              into the empty air.
What I'm trying to say is
you are not alone.



Descending Mt. Everest

You are eight times as likely to die
coming down from Mt. Everest as you are
ascending its summit. You leave too late.

You underestimate how long it will take
to cross the southwest face, choosing
what you think is the fastest route.

Last spring, when two climbers, descending
toward base camp, passed the man sprawled
in the snow, they declared him dead.

Divorce him, my father said, when my husband
and I separated for the second time.
I never liked him anyway.

A day and a half later when the not-dead man
stumbled off the mountain
into the middle of what he thought

was a field of blue rocks, but was instead
tents and salvation, he said, on the way up
the wind had been at my back.
That's how he knew

in which direction to walk—
straight into it. Standing on the summit,
you think, I've done it. Everything else

will be easy. Yet you rarely carry enough oxygen.
You don't read the sky right.
You ignore the gathering clouds. You think

all I have to do now is be happy.
But the hard part is getting back down
without dying, not to mention,

convincing your father
that what he meant to say was: keep going.



Sarah Wetzel is the author of the poetry collection All Our Davids, forthcoming from Terrapin Books. She is also the author of River Electric with Light, which won the AROHO Poetry Publication Prize and was published by Red Hen Press in 2015, and Bathsheba Transatlantic, which won the Philip Levine Prize for Poetry and was published in 2010. A PhD student in Comparative Literature at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York, Sarah, when she can, teaches creative writing at The American University of Rome, Italy. Not surprisingly, she spends a lot of time on planes. You can read samples of her work at