It mounts at sea, a concave wall
Down-ribbed with shine,
And pushes forward, building tall
Its steep incline.
Then from their hiding rise to sight
Black shapes on boards
Bearing before the fringe of white
It mottles towards.
Their pale feet curl, they poise their weight
With a learn’d skill.
It is the wave they imitate
Keeps them so still.
The marbling bodies have become
Half wave, half men,
Grafted it seems by feet of foam
Some seconds, then,
Late as they can, they slice the face
In timed procession:
Balance is triumph in this place,
The mindless heave of which they rode
A fluid shelf
Breaks as they leave it, falls and, slowed,
Clear, the sheathed bodies slick as seals
Loosen and tingle;
And by the board the bare foot feels
The suck of shingle.
They paddle in the shallows still;
Two splash each other;
Then all swim out to wait until
The right waves gather.
Thom Gunn, “From the Wave” from Selected Poems. Copyright © 2009 by Thom Gunn. Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux .
Source: Selected Poems
(Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2009)