Various and Sundry Poetry

the swim

It is no small thing to dip into a New England lake
at the first swell of summer, air damp enough
to pool a sweat at the back of the knees
before entering. It is no small thing
to lower the body rib by rib into a crucible of water
sugared with pollen, to wade past a skeleton of twigs,
a charm bracelet of boys daring each other with handstands,
and turn an ear toward the whisper chorus
of dragonflies. It is no small thing to align
with this permeable geography, to forfeit weight
and gravity for dark, bottomless dark, to accept
the mystery of transient borders and an undependably slick
raft of leaves, to eye the opposite shore and be unable
to gauge, exactly, what kind of strength will be needed
for the crossing. It is no small thing to attempt that crossing,
to gather good oxygen and release it in service of a mutable
journey, to move with neither elegance nor cleverness but, simply,
to move, to get parallel with what is being asked, to dim
the body of its adjectives, to unburden the mind of debate
and dilemma, to siphon the clatter out of the lungs. It is no
small thing to submit to a current, however imperceptible,
to fall into and rise out of the surface using only
fingertips, to arrive at the center and realize that a center
is not, in itself, a destination. It is half of one, or a quarter.
There is the next length, and then where does that leave you,
your towel and car keys where you’d secreted them behind,
and so having reached the far beach, an understanding that the swim
is really a series of swims, parting after parting, breath after breath,
and the only thing required – not theatrics, not athleticism –
is a trust in the buoyancy and benevolence
of water.
It is no small thing to receive that gift, so submit to such a kindness,
to recognize that something other than muscle and criticism
can propel a body forward, that underneath the strict machinations
of living, some liquid thing is beating its great heart,
carrying you.
It is no small thing and yet,
it is the smallest thing,
how you bow to the turning of this slow,
unseen wheel, the way you follow
one stroke with another,
your belief in what you are about to do
buzzing like an atom, like a particle of air,
like a lifeline.