“Treading Water in the Dark, Off Savo Island,” by Amy Hassinger


Treading Water in the Dark, Off Savo Island

                                                for Harry Vincent

I know what you want me to remember, Scoop.
You, huddled in Ironbottom Sound
a half-mile from the ship
as it slurps under.
One or two or three thousand men
treading water in the dark
among one or two thousand floating dead.
A man moans I can’t swim
and you—lieutenant, junior grade,
master of the electronic coding machine,
first-in-the-family Naval Academy graduate—
you toss your life belt.
Every few minutes
someone asks you the time.
You check your dripping Girard-Perregaux
until daylight comes.

I know how you’d tell it.
This is a real hero story, you’d say,
and say how, later, after sunrise,
you made your way to a raft of seventy-five survivors—
one who winced at each salty spray, his neck nearly severed.
You swam out to a drowning man,
one-armed him back to the raft.

I know all that.
But what I want to know
is why you held that story so close all these years,
magicking that watch into such an icon.
The Vincennes lies on the floor of Ironbottom Sound
and you lie on a hospital cot.
The Girard-Perregaux was stolen years ago.

I sat outside last night
above a grove of filbert bushes
the sky a dark sea
lit now and then by distant flares.
A praying mantis ran at me across a tabletop
wheeled its forelimbs in my direction.
I was afraid
for no good reason.
It seemed to see me, is what I want to say,
and I did not want to be seen.

Tell me, Scoop,
is this how you’ve lived?
Have you been treading water in the dark
this long?


Amy Hassinger is the author of two novels, Nina: Adolescence and The Priest’s Madonna. The gestation period of her third novel, After the Dam, happens to be the same as the age of her son. Her work has appeared or will appear (so they tell her) in many publications, including The Writers’ Chronicle, The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Common Online, and South Dakota Review. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and teaches in the University of Nebraska’s MFA in Writing Program. You can find out more about her here.