Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash. Leonard Cohen

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Swimming Lessons

Bathers, 1950 by George Tooker
The smell of chlorine and sweat
stings my nose and throat
My feet scrape against
unfamiliar concrete,
step in puddles 
of warmish water

The sickly sweet scent
of suntan lotion
fills the air with
artificial coconut
My bathing cap
covers my head
in gaudy rubber flowers,
the strap pulled too tight

I gaze around the grass,
try to find an open spot
to lay my towel
and glasses

Now I am a mole
in the overbearing sunlight
I want to tunnel
back underground 
Here I am too exposed
My pale skin protests
the scorching light

Shouts and laughter
of other children
are a foreign language to me
I am an outsider
I know my otherness
will be discovered
any moment

Whistle blows
shrill and ominous
The lesson begins
Cold water assaults
my skin,
uncovered and unprotected

We line up
at the diving board
I feel like a cow 
being herded to slaughter
One after the other
the children jump and dive
Then it is my turn

I feign confidence
and walk to the board's end
pray silently to Poseidon
and jump

The sting hits 
my belly
as it always does
My nose fills
with water
My eyes
with tears

I climb up the ladder
Bright red slap on my belly
and a matching one
on my face
I look at the clock
and calculate 
how many more assaults
I must endure
until the hour is

submitted for Magpie Tales, Mag 277


Helen said...

Your poem is incredibly up close and personal, Mouse! Nice.

Deepa said...

I felt like this on my 1st swim day

Unknown said...

That could be me! Great poem.

Rosey Pinkerton's blog

Anonymous said...

Yep, i could never dive either! Swim strongly, yes, dive, no! This could be me too :)

Gemma Wiseman said...

Wooo. So many suffer just to be seen as one of the pack and to abide by what should be done. Kinda sad.

Unknown said...

This poem nicely encapsulates that fear that a lot of kids have for the diving board or just activities at the pool in general. I used to teach lessons like this at a YMCA and there were kids who didn't want to be there and for whom some of what we did was just torture. I remember their sad little faces and their unrelenting parents. :-\

Kutamun said...

My heart goes out to you , poor little mite

Berowne said...

Celebrate that otherness!

Bekkie Sanchez said...

This is how I used to feel at swim lessons at the YMCA. Lol!