In the first story
I am in a terrifying fight
but when you talk
about being in a fight
people want to know
what the fight was about
or be stupidly reassured
that the other person started it
but it never really matters
or it matters before
the fight or after the fight
but it says nothing
about the fight itself
which is always two animals
trying to hurt without being hurt.

If you can say you won
even though you recall weeping
and heaving for breath
certain you could no longer breathe
but had the strange presence of mind
to be grateful
that the sand of the beach
was not so hard-packed
that you had to worry
about cracking open the head
of the boy you were fighting
because you didn't want to kill him
though everything thing you did
proved otherwise
and yet you worried about the softness
of the sand
and whether you would twist
your ankle which you thought
would be painful even though
you were already cut and concussed and
bleeding freely from your mouth
and exhausted and absently
cataloguing which parts
of you would work and
for how much longer
how much longer
because you needed to keep
the boy's head in the crook of your elbow
until he went to sleep
and you were already so tired
and you even rested your head
against the sand
and held the boy's head
to your chest with one arm
while fending off with the other
his desperate grip
waiting to see which of you would sleep
first and for how long
if you can say
that is winning then I won.

I thought
this is like rescuing a drowning man
because the ocean
was right there and I had been trained
to do that to rescue swimmers
from the sea even though
I was drowning a boy
on dry land.

The other story is about a little girl
just ten months old
who had been left in my care
and with whom I had lived
since the first week of her life
and though she knew me
as well as she knew her mother
or her father
she had never before been
without both at once
had never been alone with me
or maybe ever even alone
with only one other person
but her mother and her father
had somewhere they needed to be
and so for a while
I would be her custodian
or guardian or companion
and while I knew what she liked to do
with her newfound ability to stand
was to listen to funk
or anything with a conspicuous beat
and dance
I did not know how long that joy
would work
and you cannot know
as a child dances uncertainly
but bravely enough
for the first few minutes after
her mother and father have left her
how long her courage
will last or how she perceives time
or absence or if you
are doing the right thing
to encourage her to keep dancing
or to pick her up and dance
with her into and out of the rooms
where she wanted to go
and in which she did not find
her mother or father.

There is no sound like a crying human baby
and if you believe there is
you are not a human
for responding to that cry
as if there is nothing else like it
is how you know what animal
you are and you are the animal
responsible for this animal
that seems to want to die
that seems as if it cannot have
the world it wants that it will asphyxiate
itself or will empty
her lungs of the air
she needs to scream beyond her ability
to scream or breathe again and
if you do not know any human babies
it can sound peaceful
to hear that she cried herself
to sleep empurpled exhausted
but it was like watching her die
each breath shuddering
with the residual effort to scream
impossibly hot and coated in sweat
she fell asleep against my chest
and I thought
no human who can remember
can ever remember what the ache
she is feeling feels like
but I remembered
that boy I had choked unconscious
and that the closer to death you get
the more like an infant you become
as you panic and weep
and I thought God there are
so many things that can go wrong
but then No there are so many ways
to make things go wrong
and so much wrong I had done
or could do
but I also thought about how I held
the back of his head
and laid him on the sand
gently without thought
exactly as I held that baby's head
as I set her down to sleep
because that is how a human body
knows to hold another human body
the boy who for a while
I had killed and the little girl
who for a while
I kept alive.