The woman to my right is applying sunscreen.
Her hands move boldly, unconsciously, a bass player plucking strings, familiar fingers playing unfamiliar skin, and I can feel it, the hands and the skin, the intimacy and the otherness.
In the water stands a shapely blade of body–from the side, she’s all vertical lines but when the wave recedes, she turns 45 degrees and the curves appear, hips flare to points, shoulders blades unfold, and with each wave I marvel at that switchblade sleight-of-hand again.
To the left, spread out on her towel and eyes closed lies a mountainous woman, so big and solid and sure that if a tsunami reared its head, we could all hold on and she’d convey us to dry ground.
Over a naked toddler, a mother droops like a sunflower heavy with seed.
She stands there without moving, as if providing shade were her sole motivation.
Laughter breaks and I turn to see two women with their lounges pulled together, gray heads thrown back and laughing mouths turned up to the sun.
One swats the other’s bare thigh–¡smack! –and their laughter pops like bubbles.
Here comes an earthquake, a milkshake, a cornucopia of fruit; each step bounces the mangos against the melons.
With the swish of one hip, she could feed the world.
Another jogs by on legs so pale they might be carved soap and muscles strung all the way up her neck to disappear under a fanciful cap of orange curls.
Beside her runs a woman who could be a man but isn’t, isn’t, and it’s her plain femaleness that pulls me along.
The one in front of me has sat so long without moving I forgot she was alive but then, without turning, she sends one hand, stretching and groping, behind. The hand finds the sunglasses and puts them on and I yearn to see those eyes, that face, the cheat sheet, the cipher, the place where all the answers are distilled.
Little boys prod my attention but the girls are the ones who grip me: three on knobbed knees work silently, furiously, piling a city of sand between them.
I search their profiles and tiny ribs for evidence of the women inside.
I can’t resist that blade, that flesh, that fruit. What is it about women? What compels me to look? It’s much more complicated than the shape of a thigh, a penetrating gaze, or desire. What it is: I cast my gaze and it catches on a mysterious feature; I feel a wrench of heavy recognition and reel it in; I take a long look then find the correspondence, the place inside me where it belongs, and from then on, we are tethered to one another in a permanent, invisible connection.