The Deep End


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

The Deep End

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