I love Sharon Olds. Her poems are so visceral and raw and this poem is one that has never left my mind, and that is presently even more profound to me than usual.
Suddenly nobody knows where you are,
your suit black as seaweed, your bearded
head slick as a seal’s.
Somebody watches the kids. I walk down the
edge of the water, clutching the towel
like a widow’s shawl around me.
None of the swimmers is just right.
Too short, too heavy, clean-shaven,
they rise out of the surf, the water
rushing down their shoulders.
Rocks stick out near shore like heads.
Kelp snakes in like a shed black suit
and I cannot find you.
My stomach begins to contract as if to
vomit salt water.
when up the sand toward me comes
a man who looks very much like you,
his beard matted like beach grass, his suit
dark as a wet shell against his body.
Coming closer, he turns out
to be you—or nearly.
Once you lose someone it is never exactly
the same person who comes back.