Op-Ed: Runaway Child

Aerial view of a beach scene with waves, people swimming, two kayakers, a gull flying above and people standing on the shore.
(Illustrations by Danicollaterale / For the Times)

The ocean was two things once,
  in two places, north it was the high

icy waves of Bodega Bay, Dillon, and Limantour,
  and south it was the blue ease

of Oceanside and Encinitas, umbrellas
  in a sleepy breeze.

It took me years to realize, those two blues
  were the same ocean.

I thought they must be separate. Must
  be cleaved in the center by a fault line.

On a call just now with my grandmother
  she mentions how all the flowers

I’ve sent are from my garden, so I let her
  believe it. Sweet lies of the mind.

She says she’s surprised
  I like to grow things, didn’t think

I was that kind of girl, she always thought I was
a runaway child.

She flicks her hand away, to show me
  her hand becoming a bird, swerving

until it is a white gull in the wind. She repeats
a runaway child.

Mercy is not frozen in time, but flits
  about frantically unsure where to land.

As children, they’d bring us to the ocean,
  divorce distraction and summer,

we’d drift with the tide southward until
  we’d almost lose sight of them,

waving dramatically for our return,
  shouting until we came back to shore.

Once, when she was watching us
  I tried to run away, four or five,

and when I got to the end of the driveway
  she didn’t try to stop me. Even shut the door.

And so I came back. She knew what it was
  to be unloved, abandoned by her mother,

riding her bike by her father’s house
  with his other children, late afternoons,

before her grandmother would call
  her home for supper. Some days, I think

she would have let me leave, some days
  I think of her shaking on the shore.

Now, she thinks all the flowers I’ve sent,
  are from my garden. Grown

from seeds and tended. She gets a kick
  out of it, this runaway child

so overly loved, she could dare to drift
  away from it all.

A gull with flowers held in its beak perched on a short pole floating in white space

Ada Limón is the award-winning author of six poetry collections, the most recent of which, “The Hurting Kind,” will be published May 10. @adalimon