Swimming with Jellyfish

by Stuart Pickford

For fun, the dolphins raced the prow,
flipping their white bellies over
for the crowd, some of whom ran

from one side to the other. Even
his wife smiled, gripping the rail.
After, she drove them up the coast

into a sea fret. Their flat’s balcony
seemed suspended. She went for a rest.
On the beach, sun pressed to get through.

Families had parasols. Kids were netting
jellyfish. In a dinghy full of water,
they were pulsing like hearts, red

on yellow plastic. Happy to be stung,
he swam into coolness. His fingers flinched
as he brushed them but he pushed on.

Surely breaststroke would save him.
A jellyfish drifted through his arms, kissed
his cheek. He splashed as if his feet

were tangled but no one could see him.
The ocean felt darker feeding on
the pale mist. Trawling a wake behind,

he made the beach. The kids had vanished.
Jellyfish on sand, their buoyancy and gloss
a gritty blob. Too late to help them.

In the mirror, his face stared back.
Red cuts, raised like nettle stings,
tingling like with an electric shock.

His wife got antiseptic, plastered it over
but didn’t ask why, resting her
fingertips on the place he had been hurt.