to be wild, to be free

He asked her what type of animal 
she'd most like to be. 
Without hesitation, she replied, 
"An auk." He wrinkled his nose, 
confused and dismissive, 
skating over her answer 
to answer his question himself. 
"I'd be a lion," he said. 
"King of the jungle."

They sat in silence, 
on the edge of the concrete wall
that bordered the parking lot
outside the youth center. 
Sweat beaded on her forehead, 
and a single drop
slid down her temple. 

He jumped down and began to dribble 
the basketball, every so often
tossing it against the wall
and scrambling to catch it 
as it bounced back. 

She sat and stared, seeing not
the cracked asphalt 
and peeling paint, but instead
the glistening of the sun 
on the surface of the sea, 
imagining the salt spray 
and the whoosh as she, 
wings spread auk-like, 
dove down to catch
a single gleaming silver fish.  

In that moment, she could both fly
and swim. She wasn't too thick 
for the desks at school, too heavy 
to jump rope, too rounded
to wear a stringed bikini. 

She was no longer the only girl
she knew who couldn't swim, 
the only one who wore a bulky 
orange lifejacket
when in girl scouts 
they'd practiced paddling a canoe
in the deep end of the city pool. 

As an auk, she was sleek
and beautiful, diving down and down 
into the glass green sea, 
finally in just the right body
to be wild, to be free.