I still hadn’t learned to swim, after the MacVicar’s pool,
and this pool’s water was cold enough to mask
the pain from knees banged and knuckles scraped
across the gritty paint. The sun boiled all our secrets out,
left us empty and tired, but each day our parents dropped us
at the Ramada Inn pool’s door, then drove away
to grocery shop or do whatever parents must
when they disappear from view. I entered the water
only so I could say I had, but the fountain of fear
rose and stayed—like a stubborn knot, like a snake,
like a bite of something spoiled noticed too late—
It is years before I learn I can turn it off for a while
by joking or paddling, but not by huddling
in the dressing room with my friend as we sneak
glances at the bodies we pray we’ll have in two years
or at those we hope we won’t in thirty. And not
by a hard crush on my friend’s older brother.
When I think of pure fear, I am entering the water
at the smooth lip of that hotel’s pool. Or I am slipping below
the surface of that other water, earlier. I have to work
to reconstruct the cautions to walk, the bright beach
towels draped over sticky chairs, the heat of the sauna
and the hissing stones from which drying steam rose.
Every day, the family cars will drive up, honk,
and almost in one motion we will shoot upward
against the water’s force, half-turn to perch
on the pool’s edge, rise and gather everything.
Still dripping, we will vanish under the humid sun.
But with no effort at all comes what came just before:
a stunning whiteness that reflects off the concrete, passes
through the glass sliders, and makes shimmers of light
where we pull ourselves under the water to sit cross-legged
on the pool’s deep floor. I am petrified, but we hold hands,
the three of us in a tight circle. We open our eyes and blink
as the bubbles powering out of our noses keep us
anchored in the time when, briefly, we can live without air.
Margot Schilpp was born in Stuttgart, Germany in 1962. She is the author of three volumes of poetry: Civil Twilight , Laws of My Nature, and The World’s Last Night.
Photo by Flickr Creative Commons Issue Michael Coghlan