Floating Docks

As I sat on the shore
Of a lake one early morn –
When only I was awake –
I watched two wooden floating docks
Joined together by a short rope –
Slowly part and converge –
To and fro

The tiny waves in the water parted them
Until the rope joining them was fully stretched –
At which time they were drawn together again –
Slowly converging – hindered by the waves
Until they could converge no more
And were pushed apart again

On one dock – I saw her sitting –
On the other – I saw myself there –
Each on our own little float
With only a rope holding us together

It then occurred to me…

Wasn’t that just the way it was between us?
By strings the Fates wove were we
Brought and kept together
Within each other’s vicinity –
But all the other forces that surrounded us
All worked to keep us apart
Because unlike the waters of the lake –
One colour wasn’t adequate
To paint our portrait

We regularly came close to each other –
Only to drift further apart –
We never managed to get close enough
To feel each other’s beating heart

We held on to the hope
That some time in the future –
We’d be able to leave
That which we had been raised upon –
To jump in and test
The so called ‘troubled’ waters –
To be together –
Heart to heart

But alas –
As with the floating docks
That never touched –
In the end –
The ‘troubled’ waters –
Though since calmed –
Left us apart

08.19.94 – 09.19.94



Copyright by Minh Tan on listed dated of completion
and published in Perspectives, ISBN 0-9686250-0-2.



Notes to this poem…

This poem was my first free verse poem. I was not into free verse at the time, calling a lot of it the form for people who couldn’t write grammatically correct, especially the more modern stuff of the day and I don’t feel any differently about my own work like this one. The composition date only spanned a month because it took me that long to consider not throwing it away and to edit a few spots. Yes, edit. It is OK to edit poetry, unlike what some people think. I still am not into free verse, for the most part, though I tolerate it more, to choose words carefully.

This poem was written at a summer camp in Nova Scotia with a group called Youth for Social Justice (YSJ) with Oxfam-Canada. I was volunteering as a camp counselor with one of many roles being to wake up the youths in the morning. I always got up plenty ahead of time to have a little piece and quiet, as well as the bathroom and hot water, to myself before the chaos set in. During the first few mornings there, I noticed two floating docks in the middle of the lake, tied together by a rope to keep them from floating apart, but that they never touched when they did come together because of the waves and winds on the lake. After a few days, a metaphor of taboos against interracial love came to me, about how people in love could hold on to each other despite the social forces around them keeping them apart, and I penned this poem.

Not having a lot of free time to myself as a camp counselor, and with a topic I deemed anything but elegant, I opted to have a go at free verse. It’s not great, but I think it tells what I wanted to convey in the metaphor I saw. The story is not autobiographical, though. I have never felt social forces around me trying to keep me from any girl I wanted to love. There were a few here and there that tried mildly, but they didn’t constitute a social group making the love taboo like some black and white people might have faced. It could have been about people involved in interracial love from any two ethnicities, of course, but the black/white taboo was prevalent in my mind because it was probably the most prevalent in the society I lived in at the time. It probably still is in 2007, though a lot less taboo than it used to be except for in select circles that will simply never change.


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