V  P  R

Contemporary Poetry and Poetics




She is the secretary.  She wears a bathing cap
of white rubber, to enclose her brittle hair,
and an elasticized suit of shirred green fabric.
She does not dive into the water, but descends,
backwards, down the shaky tubular ladder,
into the shallows, where the water is calm
and strangely luminous, and smells always
of chlorine—
                      the echoes, among high girders
and skylights long ago painted over, of water
lapping in the scum-gutter, of dishes clinking,
far away, in the kitchen—
                                          and everywhere,
across the glazed bottom and sides of the pool,
the shifting reflections and bands of soft light
in endless permutations—
                                          she settles down
amid the water, spreads her arms, launches
herself, with her head back, into the stillness,
and begins her slow, symmetric sweeping.

We are in the YMCA of an ancient city
of abandoned mills and red-brick factories
that stretch along the river. This is the pool
built years ago, for the youth of the town,
when there was still some money.  These days
the walls are pocked with broken tiles, pipes
conveying the water are discolored with rust,
but still the elementary children of the town
are bussed here, and taught how to swim
by teen-aged instructors not much older
than themselves.
                            The children are brown
and black and pale white, they are separated
by gender, they swim naked, according to
an old custom, in this high-ceilinged pool
that booms with their squeals, their voices—
although now it is noon, they are dressed,
and made to line up.Toting their backpacks,
herded outside, they form circles on the lawn,
and eat their lunch from plastic containers.

Here, in the pool’s silence, and the constant
flickering of reflections, is the secretary,
who weekdays at this hour will backstroke
across the still water—
                                     at the other end,
the deep end, is the pool maintenance man,
retired and in his seventies, with flaccid skin
and patches of grizzled hair on his arms
and legs and chest, who receives no pay,
and volunteers his services—
                                               in order that
day after day, in his faded, baggy trunks
and his plastic nose-clip, he can climb up
and walk to the end of the 3-meter board,
and stand for a moment, and then step off
into the sheen of ever-shifting reflections
lining the pool’s floor —
                                       he becomes the point
of a needle slipped into impermanence,
he is that which almost touches something
balancing in the depths—
                                         he bobs up again,
returns once more to the world of gaskets
and broken tiles and murmuring children.
Re-emerging, he floats improbably, since
he lacks bulk, and is nothing more than
a scarecrow, with white hair rayed out
around his head—but he has learned
how to hang motionless, arms extended,
only his face showing—
                                       thus the rituals
of these two, who are old acquaintances,
but who do not speak—him suspended,
she progressing slowly across the shallows
with her eyes closed—
                                     one moving, the other
drifting, and all around them the silence,
the placid water, the pale tremors of light
endlessly searching and shimmering.


© by Jared Carter


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