I needed correction.

I needed correcting.

I swam out correctly.

I swam out far.

I turned toward shore.

I submerged myself.

I came up for air.

Came up, went down.

I drowned myself.

I washed my hair.

Then sucked in air.

And found my reward.

It was drifting toward me.

It was drifting from shore.

A floating, sun-blanched divesuit of foam.

I pulled myself into it.

Now I could float.

I no longer had to go down, come up.

I had all the air I could hope to suck.

I could float while the waves corrected me.

I could let myself be pummeled by waves.

I came to, blinking, still in one place.

I’d been given the means to think again.

To think in the absence of making corrections.

Which added to my list of corrections by one.

For I saw the patrols of children on shore.

I saw the one being singled out.

The gloved fingers snapping behind his back.

Child directed to hose down the armory.

Child directed to wipe down the havens.

My servicer seemed to know me well.

He floated out more rewards from land.

He seemed to know the date of my birth.

He seemed to know my bank holidays.

Sent vials of fresh water.

Once, a fish.

A bottle of game fuel.

Leadership quotes.

Each gesture made it clear to me.

My correction was to repay the debt.

Which added to my list of corrections by one.

How indistinguishable a loan is from love.

For it must appear I enjoyed his service.

I smiled to signal my gratitude.

I did not want to appear ungrateful.

I did not want to be called a backslider.

I do have regard for people and things.

How eagerly then I received each new gift.

A mallet was sent on a pallet of foam.

It fit perfectly in the loop on my suit.

Yes, it was heavy.

And, yes, dragged me down.

But at least I’d reclaimed the sensation of work.

I worked as the children patrolled the shore.

I saw many killable things in the water.

I killed them and held them in my teeth for show.

I ate them up in the long stretches.

The stretches with no holidays or gifts.

And then the water would pummel me.

I’d come to again, water stinging my eyes.

The waves poured out of my mouth and nose.

And, in this, I thought I could almost hear it.

Child hosing down the armory floors.

Child wiping down the havens of glass.

I raised my mallet up high for them all.

Which added to my list of corrections by one.

For surely I resembled something they hated.

The ease with which I floated out there.

The suit of foam, they must have resented.

The vigor with which I raised up the mallet.

Backslider, parasite on the water.

No regard for people or things.

I saw the children confirming this.

They turned away to bed down by their fires.

The season changed.

The water froze.

The work of floating in place was hard.

The suit provided no insulation.

My body shook.

It shook with corrections.

My brain said raise the mallet once more.

Show them you suffer while holding it high.

The mallet shook toward the empty shore.

I raised it high.

I brought it down.

I felt I must surely be winning an office.

Winning the board seat.

Winning the crowd.

But no one was there to witness this.

The empty shore now dusted with snow.

To believe I had lived under certain conditions.

To believe these conditions needed correction.

To believe I’d been gifted the means of correction.

To believe I needed correction at all.

Which revealed the correction I could not make.

To correct myself in the absence of peril.

Peter Mishler's debut poetry collection is Fludde (Sarabande Books).