I chanced upon him on an empty beach:
his elbow bent, shading his eyes
as he stared out to sea, his back to me.
A puckish breeze disturbed the sand.
I traced his line of sight across the surf –
a woman flailing in a rip.
He didn't move. I couldn't take
the measure of her danger – she drowned, or swam
in full view of this stolid man.
Nor could I speak. A summer cold
had burrowed nose to throat, ruined my voice,
a splintered whisper left at best.
Would I have screamed? What sort of man
stands witness to a drowning? He might have let
me sink as well, should I have intervened.
He turned, as if to leave, then spotted me.
His face flared like a nova. Then it dimmed.
He beckoned me — hey, can you swim?
Daragh Byrnes is a Sydney-based Irish poet. In 2022 his work appeared in Poetry Wales, Southword, Crannóg, Skylight 47 and Abridged (amongst others). He also won third prize in the Poetry London competition and was shortlisted for the Val Vallis award (Australia). He runs the Sydney Poetry Lounge, a regular open-mic night.