The Art of Drowning

The Art Of Drowning
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I wonder how it all got started, this business
about seeing your life flash before your eyes
while you drown, as if panic, or the act of submergence,
could startle time into such compression, crushing
decades in the vice of your desperate, final seconds.

After falling off a steamship or being swept away
in a rush of floodwaters, wouldn't you hope
for a more leisurely review, an invisible hand
turning the pages of an album of photographs-
you up on a pony or blowing out candles in a conic hat.

How about a short animated film, a slide presentation?
Your life expressed in an essay, or in one model photograph?
Wouldn't any form be better than this sudden flash?
Your whole existence going off in your face
in an eyebrow-singeing explosion of biography-
nothing like the three large volumes you envisioned.

Survivors would have us believe in a brilliance
here, some bolt of truth forking across the water,
an ultimate Light before all the lights go out,
dawning on you with all its megalithic tonnage.
But if something does flash before your eyes
as you go under, it will probably be a fish,

a quick blur of curved silver darting away,
having nothing to do with your life or your death.
The tide will take you, or the lake will accept it all
as you sink toward the weedy disarray of the bottom,
leaving behind what you have already forgotten,
the surface, now overrun with the high travel of clouds.

Ryan Searcy's analysis of The Art of Drowning

Billy Collins asks the question why life flashes before your eyes when you are approaching an impending death.   As the poet’s character plunges beneath the surface to his watery grave, a quick depiction of a long life is cycled through his mind.  Mr. Collins describes how strange it is that time could be compressed and crushed into such a short film in the final seconds of life.  He dreams of a final moment when all corners of the life lived come together for a grand production, a sort of sit down event where all moments are admired in grand detail and discussion.  Only to his dismay, the moment is as quick as the time it takes for the oxygen to deplete in a dying drowning man.  He expresses disappointment when the three volumes of a biography is not found or even touched on during these final moments.  There is no grand exit, nor parade of life to send you on the way.  He is warning that the bright light inviting us in to a better place everyone expects to see may not shine when death closes in.  There is just a slippery fish passing by as the existence around you continues existing.  To me, the fish represents a society unaware of the passing of this man from one realm to the other, choosing to just pass by as the fish has its own problems to contend with.  The problem with nature is that it doesn’t have any positive or negative feelings toward ones passing.  It finds a way to accompany us on our journey and then is just as content to see us on our way out.  One person sinks to the depths of the deep and not a care is exerted, but for the man wishing he could find his way back to the surface where the clouds fly overhead.  Expect nothing when you die, but pursue everything while you live.  You must accomplish all before you sink deep down, as he says, to the weedy disarray of the bottom.