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We had to do a project that day after school,
even though it was pouring down,
the water drenching the earth (and everything else)
in the essence of cool, sweet summer.
We went to the park to take pictures,
posing as characters from that book no one liked.
We waited until the sheets of stinging rain had become
nothing more than another gentle layer of fog, cooling us.
The picture that stuck in my mind was the one of you
sitting in the blow-up raft that served as a substitute for a mighty ship.
Though we were laughing at nothing while the picture was taken,
it might have said more than the book itself did.
We meant to convey the idea that you were a great explorer
drifting slowly through the waters of the Congo River.
You posed against a backdrop of dark, deep trees,
which held the secrets of men and beasts in its black heart.
Through the lens, it looked innocent enough,
and a hint of a smile might have played on your lips.
You felt ridiculous, I knew, trying to disguise the
town park as a mystifying jungle a world away.
But when I looked at the picture later with more time to really admire,
I saw that the hint of a smile could be misconstrued as a grimace, while
the squinting of your eyes looked more like pain than pleasure
and your hands held tight to the oar, leaning over the side.
The trees had lost their threatening, dominating quality,
revealing them to be nothing more than harmless Georgia pines.
You could even see the concrete beneath the raft which we tried
so desperately to hide with crafty camera angles.
What struck me the most, right in the core of my being,
was the sense of pure childhood that you exuded.
You clung tight to the boat beneath you in the midst of the trees,
And you had never looked so utterly and completely